The Holon – a different way to think about organisational measurement

“The definition of the individual was: a multitude of one million divided by one million.” –

Fractal Created by cowicide

Fractal Created by cowicide

Arther Koestler

Is your organisation lost in its measurements – flitting between very granular to very grey or nothing. I think most organisations suffer from this. Ever since businesses moved away from being family owned, to corporations, measurement has (quite rightly) taken a front seat. And if you aren’t sure what you should be measuring and you have shareholders breathing down your neck you start with the money. Unfortunately most organisations start and stop there. So here is some questions that might be difficult to answer:

How do you make more money?

How do you know that you are making all the money you can?

How do you know the money wont suddenly stop (or at least have a big dent in it)?

This is just a sample of questions that can’t be answered just by having good financial management and basic strategy. This is where you have to think about properly measuring your organisation and why not? I was pondering how you know what to measure (and how much) when I thought of a Holon. A Holon (originally coined by Koestler) is something that is a ‘complete part’, a ‘partial whole’ it is both a constituent and (representative) of the entirety. Don’t mistake this for homogeneity, this is more like the big Russian doll filled will lots of little Russian dolls. Anyway, I thought that if business is really about people (which I believe, in the most, it is) then can we find all we need to know about measuring the health of an organisation by looking at how we measure the health of its constituent parts – people.

Don’t get me wrong, this is hardly a 100% true interpretation of Koestlers ideas or of the genius that inspired him – Herbert A. Simon. However, it did throw up some interesting options, it gave me a list of measures that I might not have come up with otherwise and by adding a ‘non-invasive’ condition it also created a standard of both efficiency and granularity, both of which are often misjudged (or perceived poorly) in organisational strategies.

So below is my slightly fun descriptions of what you can measure to predict the health of a human and the organisational equivalent.

Health Measurement

Organisational Measurement


Education Organisational Knowledge Knowledge  possessed to overcome challenges
Intelligence Talent Core ability
Positivity Quality of the Strategy Resilience to overcome obstacles and keep forward focussed
Nutrition Investment Strategy Are the ‘inputs’ to build the organisation stronger going in the right places
Clothes Fit Business Model Fit Monitoring the shape of the organisation to see if it has outgrown the market or its customers
Activity Production Is enough of the right stuff being done
Metabolism Efficiency Are the investments being used wisely
Rest Heart Rate Engagement How well is the ‘lifeblood’ ticking over so that it can also achieve peak performance.
Digestion Financial Planning Is the method of distributing finance, and identifying where it needs to go, effective.
Waist/Height Ratio Demographics Do you have enough of what you need and, in particular, are you top-heavy.
Exercise Talent Pipeline Are you preparing now for future exertions?
Symmetry Culture Does the culture match the business model OR is what you have inherited good enough.
Disease Dis-ease The absence or presence of isolated, damaging entities
Blood Pressure Wellness Are you under too much pressure?
Stool Attrition What is the quality of what passes through

OK so some of those are a little tongue in cheek and the ‘stool’ one a little on the nose (how many more body metaphors can I get in?). But what is interesting here is that try as much as I like I can’t think of anything else that is worth measuring, whilst we stay at the 50,000 feet level. Clearly once you dip in you can see lots of options. For instance, when you look at attrition you can look at rate, but you can also look at quality, experience (exit interviews) and probably many more aspects. Also, in the same way, if you were going for a full physical you still might not have all of the above measured, you might decide that as an organisation you don’t need that either.

So, all of these measures are ‘non-intrusive’ (read: fairly low cost and low effort), they take a holistic view of health (read: they don’t just stop at the money) and they are all definitive in their meaning (read: there is broadly a consensus as to what is good and what is bad). These remain the features you should be looking for when you add more measures i.e. it might be ‘interesting’ to look at the Senior Managers MBTI preferences but if you a) aren’t already collecting it and b) can’t get consensus as to what ‘good’ is (symmetry?) – don’t bother.

Can you think of anything I have missed?