The Futility of Fixating on Outliers in Performance Measures

October 14, 2014 by Stacey Barr

One of my performance measures is Measure Up Unsubscribe Rate, the proportion of readers who unsubscribe from this newsletter. Some people unsubscribe because they don’t like that I’m vegan, or they think my joking is tactless, or they don’t like my passion for muscle cars, or they don’t want any information from me that isn’t free. So when one of these things happens, the Measure Up Unsubscribe Rate will spike up. Should I worry about this?

If I think about these people and their comments when they unsubscribe, I can feel a little bit hurt. And then I doubt myself and wonder if I am wrong, and if I should change in order to prevent any spikes in Measure Up Unsubscribe Rate.

But that would mean trying to please all the people all the time. It would mean not being who I truly am, not accepting my lack of perfection, and striving for unrealistic expectations of just how much control I have over the people who are hovering their mouse over the unsubscribe link in each email.

If they want to unsubscribe simply because I get a kick out of watching Killa B doing a burnout, or feel uncomfortable with the idea that I don’t eat animals, then how much do they really want to learn about performance measurement?

In reality, these people are outliers, lying outside the group of people I can honestly help.

To them, my personality quirks are outliers, lying outside their expectations of who I should be before they could respect what I have to say about performance measurement.

To both of us, this focus on outliers isn’t useful or helpful in pursuing the results we each want.

And it’s the same story for any performance result we’re measuring: we waste time, effort and emotional energy when we fixate on outliers, because essentially we can’t do much about them.

Focus on what you can do something about, and even though the outliers might continue once in a while, overall performance will continue to get better.

TAKE ACTION:

Where are you fixating on single points of data that fail to hit your expectations? Broaden your view of your performance measure, looking at more historic data, and focus more on the overall level of performance. It’s this overall level you have influence over, despite the outliers, and it’s exercising this influence that will elevate performance overall.

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  1. Jay Fazal says:

    Stacey
    Simple words,which I have been following for many years,be it at home or outside.
    “Let others talk, write negative as night goes by the next sunrise they shall look for something new to talk and ponder about” You are sharing knowledge and helping people like us understand our profession in depth and look forward in progressing in various fields,if your notes,lectures & tutoring has some personal touch and spice in it, it makes us welcomed.A quote,from a person who fought an empire,changed human thinking in return the world bowed down.
    “A person who is worried about the outcome of his work does not see his goal; he sees only his opposition and the obstacles before him. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

  2. Tom Griffin says:

    Thank you for being who you are; it is refreshing, continued success to you.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Tom, thanks, that’s sweet and it inspires. It’s always easier to be ourselves, warts and all, rather than trying to fit our fantasies of what we think others expect.

  3. Joe Reach says:

    Would seem to me it’s not black and white; there are times focusing on outliers can be helpful. As an example, I am currently doing some measurement work related to service requests. Requests typically take, say 30 to 60 days to complete, but can be longer. Highlighting a planned duration of 120 days (an outlier) could be a reality check for the estimator. (Was it a typo? Will it really take 180 days?).

    Much appreciate your comments on this and all the info and insights you provide.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Yes, Joe, I interpret what you say as investigating to understand the outlier, and to me that’s very different to reacting to it without understanding. Like my response to Bill’s comment in this thread. It’s a very good point.

      • Joe Reach says:

        Makes sense.
        I saw something on LinkedIn recently which essentially said it’s all about the data, or data are everything, or some such nonsense.
        It’s all about how you apply / interpret / make decisions with / etc. the data for the subject / domain.
        Thanks.

  4. Teodoro says:

    Stacey I´m not sure I would call the unsubscribers outliers. I think that the unusual thing is that they subscribed in the first place because it is very clear that their interests are far, far away from measurement.
    For those of us who are really into measurement you are a guide, a teacher and an inspiration. Thank you very much for being who you are and sharing it with us

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