Yesterday I looked at reasons to be skeptical of metrics, which carry inherent dangers. However, that is not to say that metrics should be thrown out. Measures of your organization and its performance provide hugely valuable information when done well. Here are four tips for making the most of your metrics.
Let logic drive your metrics, not the other way around. Metrics exist to answer questions. However, in practice they often dictate the questions we ask, simply because they lend themselves more easily to answers. Your use of metrics should be based on 1) how you intend for your organization to add value and 2) understanding why it is or is not doing that.
When you think through the metrics you’ll use to measure your business, start by thinking about the strategic outcomes you’re trying to impact. Generally these will be fairly straightforward. That’s good, since you’ll want to spend most of your time thinking about the levers that will facilitate or impede your ability to have that impact.
This is the way to build a organizational metrics framework or dashboard. It’s not about simply picking from the IRIS list. Their suggestions may be helpful, but if your dashboard includes zero metrics that are unique to you and your social enterprise, you’re in trouble.
Think tachometer, not speedometer. Think about your car dashboard. You probably spend the vast majority of your time looking at only one of the many bits of information available there – your speed. Yet, that information only allows you to answer one question. That is, “Am I driving at a safe speed/within the speed limit?” It tells you nothing about how the engine is performing, your fuel efficiency, or the danger of over-heating, running out of gas, or popping a flat tire. On the other hand, the tachometer, which measures your RPMs, can, indirectly, tell you your approximate speed, the stress you’re putting on the engine, and also give you information regarding your probable fuel consumption.
The point here is that the unsexy operational metrics that help you understand what is going on in your organization are often much more valuable than the benchmarks and bottom-line measures, whether those be economic, social, or environmental. In fact, when done well operational metrics enable better decisions and even prediction of future performance, whereas bottom-line metrics generally tell you how you’re doing without helping you understand “why.”
Revise your metrics regularly and be careful in your use of benchmarks. Firstly, your metrics should serve you, as a manager, first and everybody else outside the organization second. So don’t be afraid to measure your organization in ways that are unique to your goals and your model. If that means blowing off benchmarks, that’s okay. After all, benchmarks, at best, allow you to roughly compare yourself to others and, at worst, force you spend time measuring things that are not very helpful.
In addition, as your organization evolves, as you learn more about what drives it, and as the environment surrounding it changes, so must your metrics. So assume you’ll be revising them regularly, based on the new questions that arise.
Don’t just build metrics – build measurement capability. Using metrics to answer your unique questions and revising them regularly to keep up with changes in your organization means that building measurement capability is more important than building metrics. If you want to be a metrics maven, worry first about having the infrastructure and processes to support data-based decisions and second about whether you have the perfect dashboard.