Big Thoughts, General Technology

Four Ways to Make Metrics Really Count

metricmeetinglight2Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves that the most important skills and tools for organizational success aren’t the ones that cost a lot or are difficult to execute. Often they are the forgotten fundamentals; the mundane but effective techniques that can really help. Developing and using metrics, even in the smallest team deep-down in the org chart, is one of those areas. Get started or re-embrace your commitment to metrics and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Rediscovering what gets measured gets managed

Are you able to view or run a report at a moment’s notice and determine how well your organization is doing in a specific area of, say, sales or service delivery? If you can then I congratulate you. You have timely data to help you make informed decisions for leading your organization to success.
Sadly, for many leaders this simply isn’t the case. Why might that be? Reasons can range from simply not making performance metrics a priority to not having the skills or systems to provide the desired data. Whatever the reason, a leader and a team without access to timely data is at a considerable disadvantage. Make metrics a priority and you can change the game in your favor entirely. Imagine being able to spin up a dashboard of data about things that really matter to your team and its objectives?

A discussion that incorporates relevant metrics lends itself to rational, data-driven decision-making. It reduces emotions and anecdotes and helps everyone focus on action. It’s one hallmark of high-performing teams.

If you’ve reached this far I gather you’re curious to learn more. Thank you. I now offer four ideas to make metrics really count for you, your team, and your organization.

1. Aim High, But Start Simply

It’s natural to begin the thought process for a metrics dashboard by believing you need to start with skilled talent; a data warehouse; and some form of data visualization tool. These things become more important over time, but let’s not start there. What matters most at the beginning is to get everyone convinced that the effort is worthwhile. Develop your best arguments for why data-driven decision making is good for everyone. Focus on the eventual positive outcomes.

Next, create an inventory of data that is currently collected and available right now. Don’t let the conversation drift to the desire to start collecting what you don’t already have. That will come later. It may be ugly, but every team has some form of existing data collection.

How about tools? Without any purchasing investment, there are amazing things that teams can do by simply using their existing productivity software or free online spreadsheets. In one of my teams, we did that for an extended period until we were ready to make tool investments. It’s doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be useful.

With some basic data sets and a modest tool, you’ve got yourself a metrics dashboard.

2. Have Regular Metric Review Meetings

For many teams, collecting data and preparing it for review can seem like a worthless chore. There’s a common belief that few look at the reports and they offer no value to the decisions that matter. This is unfortunately validated as truth in many instances.

If you’re going to collect and make metrics matter, they need to be reviewed together as a team. These review meetings can be some of the most educational and valuable times that teams spend together. Have the team members who are responsible for the data interpret and present the results.

When team members observe that decisions are being made based on the data, the result is often improved trust. Who doesn’t want that?

3. Only Collect and Review Metrics for Decision-making

Sure, this tip seems obvious, but it is seldom adhered to. Teams that already collect and present data must choose a time to run every metric through the filter of whether it is an actionable item. If the metric is no longer something to base decisions on, eliminate or archive it. Over the months and years, metrics-creep has likely resulted in a large and diverse set of reports. Periodic purging is necessary.

For teams new to performance dashboards, be discriminating. Carefully review the value of data that you’re proposing to collect and present. You and your team will be surprised at the dialogue this creates. A better understanding of what the team does will surface. Collecting and presenting actionable data effectively describes the purpose of the team.

4. Share Metric Insights

At first, your metrics and reviews will likely have a small audience. Begin with a small team that includes managers and supervisors. Meet regularly, document decisions, refine the process, and add new metrics. At some point it will become clear that others will benefit from visibility to a subset of your metrics. Who might they be? Think about senior management; your customers; your suppliers; your peers and other teams.

I’m a big believer in telling your team story on a regular basis. Sure, it can take many forms, but I’ll argue that metrics need to be a part of it. Team metrics quickly communicate the value of what your team does. It will greatly assist with decision-making; for example, when trying to make the case for additional funding.

I’ve found that bringing metrics to the table changes the conversation. It helps to reduce emotional elements, personal attacks, and anecdotes. Assuming the data is high quality, a superior dialogue should result.

And Finally…

A discussion on metrics isn’t the most glamorous topic for most of us. What most of us do desire however, are simple leadership techniques that bring better outcomes. If you’re not making performance metrics count in your organization or team, you’re missing an easy instrument to get better results.

The four ideas in this article are intended to motivate you to action or reinvigorate an existing, but neglected area of your team. Those that are new to metrics can follow the ideas and in an iterative process, improve on each one as time passes. It won’t be too long before you’ll want better data analytical tools and perhaps want to hire specific talent.

In my career I often remind myself to revisit fundamentals. It’s these reminders that can help sharpen the saw and get us reinvigorated in our careers.

Remind yourself to make metrics really count. You’ll be glad you did.

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