The Mirror of Management Metrics

What’s your relationship to management metrics? It’s normal not to be able to answer right away. You’ll find yourself somewhere on the spectrum of metrics-obsessed to metrics-phobic. It doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum. What matters is that you can learn about yourself and your business or department wherever you are. People think change is hard, and it often doesn’t have to be. The hard part is the first step: accepting reality. Look in the mirror. Once you do this, change can actually be easy.    

The true purpose of management metrics in a business is to help you get square with reality. But here’s the rub: most of us gravitate to the truths that feel good, and avoid the ones that don’t. This is an understandable tendency because we all prefer feeling good to bad. But if you’re interested in excellence, this tendency has to change.

You can start this process right now. Look at the numbers that are difficult to look at—because they’re by definition the ones that have the most room for improvement!  

Take 5 minutes to do this management metrics exercise:

  • Pick one management metric you know you avoid looking at (e.g., customer retention, employee absenteeism, a profitability KPI, etc.)
  • Without thinking too much about the number value, what’s the story you tell yourself about the importance or unimportance of that metric and ‘what it really means’? Is that story true?
  • When we avoid something, there’s always a side benefit to doing so (e.g., if we don’t set the alarm we get to sleep in).  Thinking about this metric, what’s the side benefit of not looking at it?
  • Alternatively, what’s the consequence (or potential consequence) of not looking at this metric? How is not looking at it impacting others right now?

Look for fear and resistance to come up related to management metrics: courage is key. Courage isn’t being fearless—it’s feeling fear and then doing what needs to be done anyway. Don’t expect discomfort around metrics to go away anytime soon. Instead, use the discomfort as an indicator there’s something to learn. Just like when you get sore you know it means you had a good workout.  

Usually, you discover it’s not as bad as you feared. Sometimes you’ll find out it’s worse. But you win either way because now you know something you didn’t before you looked: about your business, about your culture, and probably about yourself. And when you create that kind of space for yourself something magical happens—you worry so much less.

Once you bring the truth out into the light of the day—even if, especially if it’s only a partial story that you need to keep investigating—you’ll inspire everyone to start working on changing it. It’s only keeping it hidden that drains you and drains morale. You’re doing a form of Aikido now, redirecting the energy that was previously going into worry (where it’s being used poorly) and applying it to a defined problem in your business that will have a clear result.

When you start to relate to management metrics as simply telling you the truth, without so much emotional charge, you start seeing great questions to ask, and not easy (and usually wrong) answers. Why did this number go up from last month? Why is this one down? How can we reverse that? You don’t have to know the answers to ask the questions. They’re only numbers you want to reach, and you’re letting your wisdom and creativity guide you to reach them.  

When you start working with numbers in this way, facing the fear and discomfort a little bit more each day, good things start to happen. You’ll start to wonder again. Your curiosity reignites. And those are the qualities you need most as a manager. You’ll feel the joy and space of getting to ask “What if?” questions when you have no idea of the answer. You practice the art of being both willing not to know and passionate about finding out everything you can at the same time. And, you’re willing to be completely wrong about your assumptions in the face of a new truth. The only thing you don’t do is bury your head in the sand.

From there, the task is to take the conversation about management metrics conversation beyond you. Teach your team that what they do matters by finding ways to quantify them. Even if it’s inexact, knowing a general trend can be hugely informative and satisfying for people who  have their heads down on projects for most of the day.

Where do you need help with metrics? Give yourself the gift of some outside help. One of the reasons programs like Weight Watchers are so successful is because of how they combine quantification, accountability, and support. If you have just one of the elements, the process fails.

They systematize the process with a weekly weigh-in where everyone meets and publicly shares their numbers. You can imagine that someone new to the group would be initially uncomfortable, but quickly learn to see these weigh-ins as a source of ongoing support rather than embarrassment. Everyone’s there to help, but if they don’t know your numbers, they can’t. It begins by facing the fear of exposure, which is always worse in our head than in reality, and sharing the truth with people who are working on the same things. Sharing uncomfortable but true things is something that happens in the Clear and Open Community. Find out more about the support you receive as a member here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment