As Measured By …

Goals are essential. Envisioning where you want to be and the feelings success will bring can create a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency is what drives us through the hard and sometimes painful work of change.

As I have worked with companies and organizations in the formation of their strategic plan, writing goals is never the problem. Most know what they want to accomplish. Where we find the challenge is in defining how they will measure the success of their goals. The group I worked with last week had a really clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish. Their rough initial thoughts looked like this:

  • Increase profitability
  • Develop a greater culture of respect among staff members
  • Increase inter-agency cooperation

We discussed the challenges with each idea and the what they are hoping to accomplish with completion of each goal. Next, I had them add three words: as measured by ...

  • Increase profitability as measured by...
  • Develop a greater culture of respect among staff members as measured by...
  • Increase inter-agency cooperation as measured by...

More essential than the goal itself is the determination of how you will measure the success of that goal or objective.

I've often heard phrases like "what we measure improves", and "if you can't measure something, you can't understand it." Being a mathematician, that rings true for me. I need an "X" to solve for and assign a numeric value. However, we must be intentional and deliberate about what we choose to measure.

What we choose to measure is assigned value.
Just because something is easy to measure, doesn't mean we should monitor it. When we start measuring and monitoring some metric, it is assigned value and priority in the minds of our team members and customers. We need to be deliberate in what we choose to monitor so that the metrics reflect our organizations values and mission. If we say we value continued partnerships with our clients but only monitor and give sales awards for new growth, are we being congruent? If we tell our customers that we value efficiency, but have a 72 hour lag time in responding to their needs for service, are we being congruent? When determining the measurements we will use to define success, we must be sure that we are assigning value to the right metrics.

Measuring brings sacrifice.
Because what we measure is assigned a value, we need to be aware and look at the possibility of unintended trade-offs.

  • If I measure quantity, I might trade off quality.
  • If I measure sales, I might trade off lowering expenses.
  • If I measure retention, I might trade off new growth.
  • If I measure response time, I might trade off professionalism.
  • If I measure growth, I might trade off retention.

Being aware and exploring the unintended consequences of monitoring a metric helps us define what to measure. This can also work to our advantage if there are behaviors we want to curb within our teams. Short term focus on a particular measurement might help us round out the behaviors of our teams or establish new routines and priorities.

What we measure must influence our decisions.

If a measurement matters at all, it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behaviour. If we can't identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.
Douglas W. Hubbard, "How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business"

If we choose to measure and monitor something, we must be willing to do something about it. It needs to have a direct correlation on how we do business. When this happens, a sense of excitement and urgency is created, as our team members take ownership for their numbers and see greater transparency in our leadership. When we don't, these team members disengage and start to slowly turn us out as leaders.

Consistency is the key.
As a high school math teacher, I was most frustrated the last three weeks of the semester. Students and their parents had access to grades every day through an online portal. We sent home progress reports every four weeks. I personally met with every student every four weeks to discuss their grade. Yet, during the last three weeks of the semester, I was inevitably, bombarded with parents wanting to know how to fix their students grade. Usually at that point, there wasn't much that could be done. Had they shown as much interest early on in the semester, small easy course corrections could have led to a much different outcome. The same works with us.

When we decide to measure and monitor something, we must do it frequently and consistently. If we wait until the end of the month or quarter, we miss the opportunity for small course corrections that could have led to our desired outcome and instead can find ourselves with a much larger problem to solve.


Defining goals and desired outcomes is essential. But don't overlook bringing clarity to those goals by carefully and intentionally choose how to measure their success. Deliberate monitoring of a combination of metrics can bring greater congruity to your organization.