So far so good: What should leaders be measuring?

Having the wrong metrics in place is a little like the person who fell off a 10 story building only to be heard to say as he passed each floor on the way down, “so far so good”.

fallingThe old cliché, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ is not entirely true. It originates from a mind-set where to gain a competitive advantage meant installing better business efficiencies. Whilst this might still be the case in select sectors or geographies, business efficiency is now, for the most part, a hygiene factor: necessary but not sufficient to secure a competitive advantage. This was the context in which everything that moved was measured and was the situation that gave rise to metrics dominating our current work environments.

There is no problem with that but here is a question worth considering: What might you be missing because of what you are measuring?

By all means measure the things that you feel will result in greater efficiencies and enable you to run your company in a manner that extracts the maximum output and benefits. But, what if some of the ‘new’ and important ‘stuff’ to your success do not have any metrics? And even worse still, what if what you are measuring (and by inference what you are ‘focusing on’) is blinding you to what really matters?

The key to a successful future is the inherent ability to adapt. The more the external (and internal) environments are changing the greater the need to be adaptable. The organisational response to the future – to be ‘futurefit’, is not strategic but rather cultural. An adaptive culture, one that is agile, nimble and quick, the ability to challenge your own business model and assumptions – these are the things that will ‘keep you alive’ to face the future. How are you measuring such things within your business?

Adaptation (in part) relies on the ability and willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. This leads to the obvious question: how are you measuring this learning process? Simply by having numerous learning and development programmes does not necessarily mean that yours is a learning organisation.

Very often the metrics underpinning such programmes is skewed and just plain wrong to the point of severely damaging the very ‘learning’ taking place. They often measure the ‘feel good’ factor around the learning itself rather than the value and extent of disruption that leads to sustainable learning. Behavioural Scientist, B.F. Skinner said that, ‘learning is what survives when what has be learnt has been forgotten’. How do measure value add after the learning process? Therein sit a clue: the fact that learning is seen as a programme rather than a process and measured accordingly is much of the problem.

So you may have lots that you are measuring and thereby paying attention to but the really important stuff – culture, the ability to adapt and learning (all of which are interconnected) is what really needs to be measured. Much of our current metrics don’t do a good enough job when it comes to tracking such things.

So again, maybe the most important question you can ask is not ‘what are we measuring?’ but rather, ‘what might we be missing because of what we are measuring?’

Don’t be guilty of saying “so far so good” when in fact you might be plummeting towards your demise – lulled by a false sense of security brought about by the wrong metrics!

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