Creating and translating metrics to every level of a business is essential to get and stay competitive. But don’t be overwhelmed and think that you have to get everything up and running all at once. As a wise man is misquoted to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed.”
So, what do I mean by that? Creating metrics that measure an organization’s success in achieving its objectives is hard in a particular way. Often companies are faced with what I call the “tyranny of the blank page” when they are trying to come up with metrics that make sense. Like if your boss was to say something like, “Hey, tell me how to measure how well you are doing your job.” The question is already a hard one, and if you add to the fact that you have nothing to narrow down your thinking, you might be stuck, or write down some things that are really not linked to anything that the organization is trying to accomplish. This is how most companies do it, by the way.
That is why we use a process that harnesses how the human mind thinks to lead clients to metrics that make sense at the top of the organization, and then a process to “flow down” these metrics and translate them at each level of the organization. This is still hard – even if you know the metrics that your boss is interested in, it is not necessarily obvious what to measure in your own work that influences them. Still, you avoid the tyranny of the blank page and have something to narrow down the potential list of millions of possible metrics.
But here is where it gets hard in a different way. Many of you out there are perfectionists or have been trained by your career to get everything right the first time. If you think about it, if you or your company expects perfection every time, you are going to be staying in the shallow end of the pool and will only make slow progress.
So, what I advise my clients to do is to take a chance on these metrics. But a well-informed chance.
Here is how we do that.
Each metric is assessed as to its hypothetical influence on the next level up’s metrics. This allows an initial prioritization. You can’t expect everyone to put all their metrics in place at once, so this further concentrates activity on which metrics make sense to get up and running sooner than others.
In my experience, usually 50-80% of these initial metrics are right. Rather than being paralyzed by trying to find the exact right metric, I encourage my clients to get something up and running. You will find out something useful that will inform your next step.
Maybe you find out that the metric was bogus after all. Great news! Now you can let that go and find what the real controlling metric is.
Maybe you find out that the metric is useful, but hard to gather. Awesome! Now you know it is worth investing in seeing if it can be automated, or if there is some other stand-in metric that gives you the same information that is easier.
And with each imperfect metric and analysis, you learn more about how your role in the business is linked to the business objectives, and more about how to get better and better metrics over time.
You see, metrics should not be a flash in the pan and then done. It, like the rest of science, is an iterative process. Starting off with something that is partially flawed allows us to find better ways next time.
Or, as no one apparently said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed” because you are at least learning and making progress by doing something, even if it is a realization that metrics you really believed were going to be important are in fact useless.
So, don’t fear imperfection. Lean into it! Get some metrics up and running, learn from what you find, and move on to a better one.