Made to measure

Why off-the-peg metrics are a bad fit

Whether you’ve made one, none or many, January is traditionally the month for resolutions. No matter if it’s weight loss, quitting bad habits, or just vowing to walk the dog in all weathers, now is the time to review your resolutions – and make new ones. But however determined you are, the distance between ambition and achievement is almost impossible to cover if you don’t know what you need to measure. Take weight loss; pounds shed might seem a sensible start, but what about your body fat percentage? Or your cardiovascular ability? Or then again, now that plus-size models share the catwalk with their skinny sisters, who cares what the scales say; maybe you should consider how happy you are instead? It’s enough to drive most of us back to the biscuits. But it’s true – your progress, whether business or personal, needs insight more than masses of meaningless data, which is why having metrics that matter, well, matters.

Make the goal delicious

A study of 2,000 adults by Second Nature found that January 12th is the day that most New Year diets fail. Among the reasons given, the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals, hunger, and irritation were often cited, while the reasons to diet fared even more poorly; some people felt pressured by loved ones, others by health scares, and even 10% stated that they simply ‘always’ went on a diet in the new year. Now imagine a business where your goals were triggered by fear, pressure and habit, and your reward was to feel stressed irritable while you spent the days wondering if you’d ever reach the unrealistic target you’d set yourself – while craving freedom from the goal itself. The lesson is clear – being able to measure your success with metrics that reflect what you really want to achieve can be the difference between success and failure. So how does that apply to business?

Dealing with data

Of course, some metrics are obvious; you can’t run a business without money or customers, so while you’ll already have some in place, take time to assess if they’re still doing their job. Maybe you inherited them from your predecessors and they’re overdue an upgrade, or maybe it’s the method of the measurement that needs changing – which brings us onto data. Since 2018’s GDPR refresh, the more data you have, the riskier it is, so before you even consider how you collect and cleanse the data, think first about what you actually need to know; what are the insights that will really drive your strategy? Only then should you consider the way in which you gather, analyse, and store data, bearing in mind that the weighty reputational damage and / or fines that can come your way if you fall foul of the guidelines. Also, don’t forget your suppliers and partners; if you need data from them, provide absolute clarity as to what’s needed right from the start, reducing the work – and risk – on both sides.

Make your metrics authentic

Many companies, particularly start-ups, focus on so-called ‘vanity’ metrics –downloads, registered users, and page views. But none of those measure what
really matters when it comes to building a broad, engaged customer base. Dig a little deeper and you’ll want to find out how many of those registered users are active every day, or how long those page views last? Do registered users really engage, or do your emails sit in their inboxes, unread? Bots can send traffic to a website, but sustained, genuine engagement can’t be hacked. British economist Charles Goodhart’s eponymous law states that ‘when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to become a good measure.’ So, even if X rival has Y many customers, or Z many downloads, don’t let that become a target to beat if it doesn’t matter to you. Think of social media; many companies find that a LinkedIn page can do much more for them than a Twitter feed can, but it can take a lot of time and money to find that out. So don’t jump on bandwagons that aren’t going to your destination.

Rediscover what matters to you
  • Go back to absolute basics; what do you hope to achieve this year? What are you getting up every day to do? What does success look like? Try to distil your answers into just one sentence that typifies your ambition, both in the short and long-term. Hopefully, having done that, you’ll have defined what it is you’re here to do, and what you’ll need to know to check you’re on course.
  • Make them flexible; Weight Watchers has changed over years, from their portions of vegetables increasing from two to three in 1988, to their ‘points’ system revitalising a way of measuring progress in 1998. So, whatever your sector, while metrics provide insight, they can also be active drivers for change, particularly if the solutions that support their monitoring have the versatility to ‘slice and dice’ the data to provide different perspectives. Consider using an independent data analytics specialist to discover new insights.
  • Get comfortable with discomfort; As Peter Drucker, the father of business management said, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,’ so discovering your meaningful metrics might be uncomfortable at first. What are your weaknesses? Where do you struggle the most? Which figures are mostly red?
  • Remember that the right metrics can provide multiple insight. Take the British Retail Consortium’s data on footfall; on first read it simply reveals simply hard numbers, but the insights from that can inform strategy and innovation in many different areas; post-pandemic behaviour, number of empty retail units, British retail success compared to EU economies, the resilience of retail parks as opposed to their high-street counterparts, the impact of remote workers on the city retail environment; the list goes on…

On a final note, don’t forget the importance of a great PMO. Whether yours is in-house or out-sourced, an effective PMO team keeps the company’s heartbeat going by providing critical metrics on strategic alignment, operational efficiency, execution, and value delivery. And not only are those vital to the success of your projects (or portfolio or programme…), but to that of your overall business, by supporting a standardization of best practice, culture, governance, and resource management, too.

We found the book by John Doerr really helpful in helping us ‘measure what matters!’

If you liked this you might also like our article about wellness metrics

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