Failure is Feedback

by Stacey Barr |

As a thought leader with a message that I desperately want to share with the world, reaching out to as many people as possible is critical to success. No point shouting from the rooftops “hey everyone, measure what matters!” because few people pay attention to rooftops, actually. I have to find other ways to reach out, but I’ve been failing…

One of my performance measures for tracking how well I’m reaching out to people with my measurement message is the number of weekly subscribers to the Measure Up newsletter.

See the downward shift that suddenly materialised around May 2013? Something like that doesn’t happen without an assignable cause.

Here’s part of the story of what that cause actually is:

You can see that around April 2013 a downward shift happened in Ezine Total Signup Rate, the percentage of new visitors who subscribe to Measure Up. It dropped from 6.3% to 3.6% almost overnight.

FAILURE! One of my most important performance measures has taken a nose dive!

At this point I could bury my head in the sand and ignore it, or I could make up all kinds of rationalisations about why people aren’t signing up for newsletters these days. Or I could blame myself for not being amazing enough.

Or I could look deeper to find out what happened around that time that could make the dips happen.

Turns out that this was when I changed the way I invite people to sign up for Measure Up. I took away the free e-book I used to offer (it was called “202 Tips for Performance Measurement”). And in its place I offered a new free video course (“The 10 Secrets to KPI Success”).

What would you conclude? That the video course wasn’t nearly as enticingly useful as the e-book? That’s what I concluded.

Failure has become FEEDBACK.

By the way, I plan to bring back a new and improved edition of “202 Tips for Performance Measurement” to replace the video course. It will be more aligned to my new book “Practical Performance Measurement”, more like a summary edition. So stay tuned.


Are you brave enough to share one of your performance measure failures, and what you learned from it, on the blog?

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  1. Gerry Prewett says:

    I am a firm believer that if you don’t make mistakes you don’t learn. BUT you need to learn from your mistakes. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again you become very efficient at doing ‘that thing’. But if you wish to improve or develop you need to try different things.

    You tried something different and from your measures you could see that it was not working. As you acknowledged you buried your head in the sand and did nothing about it, but now you have. I believe you have learnt a lesson there. When you make a change keep and eye out to see the effects, whether good or bad, and be prepared to revert or continue.

    Stacey it is very important to acknowledge mistakes and move on. Well done.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Thanks Gerry. When we reframe measurement as experimentation, it becomes exciting. I don’t think many people reframe it this way, though. It’s part of what I see my purpose is.

  2. Greg John says:

    If all you seek is the status quo, then measure that which you already know to be your successes. If you seek to excel, then measure that which is less than successful; i.e., seek out failure.

  3. Nice. And thanks for sharing your “failure.” But, just to be clear (and to join the chorus of Gerry and Greg) your only failure was to 1. pay attention to the change and 2. to react to it. The actual dip in signups was not a failure, it was the very useful indicator which informed you that something drastic may have happened.

    As always, love reading your posts – thanks!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      The video course, as a replacement to ebook, was an experiment. Good experimental results are not failures or successes; they are discoveries. But good experiments should be watched closely and I didn’t do that. So I agree with you Marty.

  4. Janet Woolum says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with the other comments. I think this is a teachable case study for the importance of frequent tracking and how to diagnose a problem. Not a failure, but an opportunity. Remember, measures are for learning not judging!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Hi Janet 🙂
      Frequent tracking is the key… and the challenge. Even I get caught up in busyness/business and don’t give the urgency to tracking that I know I should. This year it’s really becoming a new habit though, thankfully.

  5. Sule Sale says:

    @Stacey, it is very important to realize that something must have gone abnormal beforea as soon as failure is noticed. Your e-book 202 tips is really a useful tool in performance measures. I downloaded it and have been an important tool in developing KPIs as well as Scorecards. I will be happily waiting for the new version. Stacy, you are really helpful. Thanks again.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Thanks Sule. I’m happy to keep failing as long as I keep learning. I was working with a client in Sydney yesterday, and they have some very aggressive improvement targets themselves, and have adopted the motto to “fail fast and fail often and learn”.

  6. Penelope W says:

    Hi Stacey,

    I just wanted to say that I read your “Failure is feedback” article this morning and felt that I should tell you that the quality of your Practical Tips is wonderful and are increasingly engaging. I really look forward to reading these tips as they allow me the opportunity me to reflect and consider what we could be measuring better at my organisation. Keep up the great work and good luck with your new strategy for increasing subscriber numbers!

    Kind regards,
    Penelope W

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