Focus, Feedback, Fulcrum

by Stacey Barr |

What’s the real role of performance measurement? To serve the bureaucratic machine? To keep an eye on employees? To hold executives accountable? Does the role change depending on whose measuring and what they’re measuring? I don’t believe so. I believe that performance measurement’s role is universally comprised of three specific things.

Every morning I measure my heart rate variability (HRV). It’s the variation in time between heartbeats. It’s a measure that takes values between 1 and 100 and the higher the better. It’s got a mathematical formula to quantify it based on heart beat data my HR strap collects. HRV is widely accepted by the medical field as a measure of nervous system resilience – or stress. Small values mean high stress and big values mean resilience.

I have measured my HRV over a long timeframe, because it’s taken a while to work out how to elevate it (in other words: to reduce my stress).

What do you notice in my HRV time series?

Do you notice the variability of the green line? That’s natural, because our HRV will vary from day to day depending on how hard we work, how much sleep we get, what we eat and what we worry about.

Do you notice the drop about two thirds along, followed by an immediate upward shift? The drop was the effect of 24 hours of flights from Brisbane to London. The upward shift was a week in Paris on vacation, with much sleeping in and relaxation.

Do you notice the gradually increasing trend after the upward shift? That’s me finally figuring out how to manage my stress with a specific daily routine.

I measure HRV for three powerful reasons.

Firstly, it sharpens my focus on an important result in my life right now: reducing work/life stress.

Secondly, it gives me objective feedback about what’s really happening with my stress levels. My HRV is more accurate than my own perceptions.

Thirdly, it is a fulcrum that gives me leverage to find the rituals that have the biggest measurable impact on HRV, and thusly lowering my stress.

Did you pick up the three things that define the role of this performance measure? Focus, feedback and fulcrum. Every single performance measure that’s worthwhile will:

  • Sharpen our FOCUS on a result that really matters.
  • Give us objective FEEDBACK about what is really happening with that result.
  • Act as a FULCRUM for us to find leverage to reach the result that matters, with the least effort.

Incidentally, the daily rituals that I’m now using to keep my stress under control are: Zen meditation, chinese adaptogenic herbs, daily journaling, Asana for project and task management, a movement break every 45 minutes of working, and a walk in the forest every afternoon after work.

Business is no different to me measuring HRV.

We think everything is important, we have biases and blind-spots in how we perceive its performance, and we try too many quick-fixes that don’t really fix things. Measuring what matters makes achieving what matters easier, faster and more enjoyable. Focus. Feedback. Fulcrum.


How well do your measures help you focus, get feedback and find the fulcrum for leverage?

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  1. Lorena Panelo says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Stacey! Indeed, these 3 fundamental measures apply to work life and life as a whole, covering all angles and making life simpler and better. Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Lorena, I really believe that measurement is something we do to understand and manage systems, and those systems could be ourselves, our teams, our communities, our organisations, and so on. Same principles but just on different scales.

  2. Susan Green says:

    Just wanted to compliment you on a great post. This was a great mix of personal anecdote and business advice. Thanks!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Susan, that’s kind of you. Thanks. I really love this model of Focus, Feedback and Fulcrum, mostly because it feels very universal. Hence the ability to link it to something so personal.

  3. Love it. You had a root question…how do I reduce stress? And then you have measures that give you the answer… Through Focus, Feedback and Fulcrum. Cool! So, what tools do you use to measure your HRV? I’m already sold on the benefits of measures built upon a solid root question – now I’m interested in measuring my stress!

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