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The Danger of Focusing on Metrics

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An old business adage warns: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” However, obsessing over metrics often does more harm than good.

Indiana-based business consultant Joe Dager provides a classic restatement of this premise in one of his blog posts:

Identifying, gathering and leveraging the right mix of metrics adds value to a project. Metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for describing how you are doing and what you can do better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on subjective evidence, perceptions and guesses.

This all sounds reasonable. After all, having a ruler which you how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go provides perspective and incentive. Shouldn’t we use hard figures as much as possible?

The answer is a qualified “yes.” Numbers are important, but without an understanding of their context, they can be misleading. Say you’re an NFL team in search of a “franchise” quarterback to guide you to the Super Bowl. If you looked solely at a productivity output figure like passing yards to guide your decision, you’d probably have wasted several high draft picks, spent a whole lot of money, and still be looking for that elusive Super Bowl. Of the top 30 all-time passing leaders in NCAA history, only two quarterbacks have actually started an NFL playoff game, much less a Super Bowl.

You could say, yeah, but I want guys who put the ball in the end zone. Well, Russell Wilson (number 16 on the NCAA all-time touchdown list) has been to two Super Bowls, winning one. But the rest of the list? Not so much.

Context matters. Who were those quarterbacks playing against? Who did they play with? Did they throw the ball 50 times a game or more around 30?

quarterbacks

Or suppose you wanted to become a famous, fabulously rich movie star. Part of that success is choosing roles in top-grossing films. You might want to note the films of the biggest box office stars of all time, like Bruce Willis (ranked #11), Tom Cruise (#7) or Harrison Ford (#4). But you probably wouldn’t be interested in emulating the movie-making career of the number one box office star of all time. That’s because it’s a actor you’ve never heard of: Frank Welker, whose films have brought in nearly five billion dollars.

Welker is successful because he’s a voice actor, and has done bit parts and vocal sound effects in countless motion pictures. These include jobs in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Independence Day.  If you want  to do voices in Hollywood, he is the man to follow. Just like the quarterbacks listed above, Frank Welker’s success demonstrates that there is more to winning than having the right measurement. Acting requires craft as well as sound decisions. The same is true in your business. Here at AccelaWork, we’re always working not just on hitting our numbers, but on making sure those numbers actually matter.

Whether you are trying to draft a quarterback, conquer the movies, survive marketing budget cuts, or just trying to finish routine tasks, measurement is important. However, that famous quote is usually interpreted incorrectly. We must not forget that the most fundamental aspects of our ability to work cannot be measured: passion, talent and creativity. Leverage these qualities in your stakeholders to conduct measurement, workflow redesign, and continuous improvement. Reach out to the Indianapolis speakers and consultants at AccelaWork to learn more.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
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Robby Slaughter
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