#72 My Measurement Success Mantras

by Stacey Barr |

I love mantras. I love how they can carry a paragraph full of meaning in just a few words, and because of this be fabulous reminders of what matters. I have mantras for running (“light and quick, here and now”) and mantras for dealing with setbacks (“onwards and upwards!”) and – yes, you guessed it – mantras for measurement!

Here you go, I’m gonna share some of them with you:


Mantra 1: Success loves speed.

I didn’t make this one up, but I can’t remember where it came from. It means that the faster you move, the faster you fail; the faster you fail, the faster you learn; and the faster you learn, the faster you succeed. Don’t waste time over-planning. Do more action-learning.

Mantra 2: Patterns, not points.

Often I’ll add a second part to this one: “Signals, not noise.” It’s about our obsession with comparing this month’s performance to last month, or the same month last year. How do you know last month or the same month last year were normal? Two points of data do not contain any signals about whether something has changed. We need to look for patterns in our performance measure’s time series, because that’s where we’ll find the true signals.

Mantra 3: It’s a process, not an event.

Performance measurement is not a brainstorming session squeezed into the last day of the annual planning workshop. Treating it as an event like this causes most of the problems we have with measurement. No, performance measurement is a process, a series of steps that involve selecting meaningful measures, bringing them to life usefully, and then using them to guide decisions about performance improvement.

Mantra 4: Buy-in, not sign-off.

Buy-in is when someone has taken their hand to helping create something. When you do that, you invest some of yourself in that thing. It’s the same for performance measures: when people help create them, they feel a stronger sense of owning them. That’s the way to get people engaged in bringing measures to life and using them to improve performance. Sign-off doesn’t even come close.

Mantra 5: Results before measures.

“So, what should our measures be?” Wrong question. The right question is “So, what results are important for us to achieve?” Then you should ask “How will we recognise those results happening?”, and thusly “What are some sensible ways to measure those results?”. Measure design is a deliberate procedure, not a creative brainstorming session.

Mantra 6: Should, can and will.

How many measures should you have? I don’t know. But I do know that the only results worth measuring are those that you should, can and will do something about. If it’s not an important performance result, then you shouldn’t do anything about it. If it’s a result outside your circle of influence, then you can’t do anything about it. If you just don’t feel the passion for it or haven’t got the time for it, then you won’t do anything about it.

Mantra 7: Practical, not perfect.

One of the biggest delays in the flow of the performance measurement process is procrastination. We procrastinate on choosing measures because our goals aren’t yet clear enough. We procrastinate on performance reporting because our measures aren’t spot-on yet. We procrastinate on performance improvement because the measures aren’t complete enough or accurate enough. Some information is better than no information. And success loves speed.

Does one of these mantras stand out for you or for your organisation? Perhaps you could walk around the office or sit in meetings reciting it out loud, over and over again until someone asks you what on Earth you’re doing or have you gone mad? It might turn out to be a usefully different way to start a conversation worth having.

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