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Measuring Progress on the BK Mission

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 

Measuring Progress on the BK Mission

Measuring Progress on the BK Mission

Based on a conversation with Marc Epstein & Kristi Yuthas

1. How to measure a social mission? Many of the authors who publish with Berrett-Koehler are inspired by the company’s mission, “A community dedicated to creating a world that works for all.” But are the books we write & publish truly helping create a world that works for all? How can we know?

2. Luckily- we have a book about that! Or we will have one, soon. When Marc Epstein and Kristi Yuthas came to the office for their Measuring Social Impacts Author Day, we asked them “How can we measure how much social change happens because of a book?” Their answers were very thought-provoking.

3. The secret: look at impact, not outputs. “Many social good operations just measure their outputs,” the authors told us. They measure the number of meals distributed, the number of children in after-school programs, or (in the case of BK) the number of books published. However, measuring outputs is just the first step. What you really need to measure is IMPACT.

4. Have crystal-clear goals. The first step to measuring impact is being crystal-clear about your goals. Fuzzy goals lead to fuzzy results. List the desired impacts for your book in terms as clear and unambiguous as possible. There can be multiple goals, there can be both obvious and hidden agendas, you just need to be clear with yourself.

Here’s an example of potential book goals:

  • Increase the number of employee ideas implemented in organizations
  • Increase the efficiency of my consulting practice by using my book as a training vehicle
  • Get rid of obsolete practices, like -Idea Boxes,’ where ideas go to die.”

(These are hypothetical goals for a very exciting upcoming Berrett-Koehler book, The Idea Driven Organization.)

5. Have crystal-clear means of measurement. When the goals are clear enough, the numerical measures of impact tend to spring into focus. In the example above, you could measure

  • Number of employee ideas acted upon
  • Time needed per client
  • Number of Idea Boxes abolished.

6. Identify the assumptions in your logical chain. You then need to establish the logical, casual, link between your actions and your desired impacts. Many of our books focus on influencing leaders, so let’s examine the chain of assumptions there:

  • First Assumption: The leader who buys it, reads its (how many purchased books just sit there forlornly on the shelves?)
  • Second Assumption: The leader acts upon what he reads.
  • Third Assumption: The leader correctly understood what he read and doesn’t make implementation mistakes.
  • Fourth Assumption: The ideas in the book work as they are supposed to in the context of the leader’s organization.

7. What percentage of readers get changed? If any of these assumptions are wrong, the whole chain snaps. In truth, I suspect it’s more like a pyramid or a funnel than a chain. A certain percentage of leaders take it off the shelf and read; a certain percentage of readers act; a certain percentage of action-takers act correctly; and a certain percentage of organizations respond well. If we sell 100,000 copies, only 1% of them may end up being true units of change. I maintain the even 1% is more than worth fighting (and publishing for) but it would be nice to know if it was 20% or 50% or only half a percent we’re talking about for any given book.

8. Identify leverage points. Also, at each drop-off point, it would be good to analyze what went wrong. Would a better cover & title (or a shorter book) have made the leader more likely to read? Should we put stronger action suggestions at the conclusion of each chapter? What parts of the book are the leaders misunderstanding? If the leader does everything right, what backlash or unexpected consequences occur? What will be the mechanisms for collecting this information?

9. Ask the readers! I’m currently working to build stronger customer connection systems into our new website. What if in the back of every book we printed, we asked a question? Something like, “Dear Reader- Are you using the ideas in this book? What happens when you act on this book’s ideas? Please tell us- go to this web address and share your journey.” ” (Or the question could be personalized for each individual book and it’s goals. )

Social Impact Creation Cycle

In Measuring Social Impact, Marc and Kristi will provide this chart of the “Social Impact Creation Cycle.”

Applying the Social Impact Creation Cycle to Berrett-Koehler

In the context of Berrett-Koehler publishing, here’s how each step on the chart might be translated:

1) What will you invest? Time and heart.

2) What problem will you address? Smoothing the path that lies between words and action which creates positive change in the world.

3) What steps will you take? Strive to optimize the social impact of our books.

  • Books should recommend specific, meaningful changes
  • We will help writers convey ideas to readers in a manner that encourages and supports action
  • We will market the books with an eye toward leaders who can make an impact

4) How will you measure success?

  • Encourage readers to report Units of Change on our website, as described above. Estimate how many lives have been touched by these changes.
  • Survey readers on how books have impacted their lives.
  • Read Amazon reviews with an eye towards figuring out how people are being influenced by our books.
  • Analyze who is buying the books. Do the people who buy the books have the potential to take action on the ideas contained within them?
  • Regular self-evaluation on the steps we have taken to help optimize social impact.

5) How can you increase impact?

  • If we have enough reader feedback about comprehension and implementation problems, we can increasingly build solutions to these problems into the books from the start.
  • We can build discussion of impacts into our Staff Meetings.
  • Articles like this could encourage authors and the publishing community to think more about impact.