Measuring What Matters (the missing piece)


If you know what a KPI is, give yourself a pat on the back. If you have a balanced scorecard, a visual management system, a dashboard, or some other way to track said KPIs, even better. With all this talk of Big Data and ROI and other data-loving phrases, you probably feel like a big damn deal. Bully for you.

Now – what if I were to go to your team and ask, what are your KPIs? Would they be able to answer?

Could they point to the balanced scorecard and confidently explain what it means? Can they describe how the data is trending? Tie their day-to-day work to the metrics?

If the answer to those questions is NO, then you are failing to measure what truly matters.

Business has fallen in love with metrics and scorecards and trends and graphs. Analysts are the new rock stars, the secret weapon of a strategic plan. Throw in the ability to build a visual tool, and that analyst becomes The One (like Neo, or Eddie Murphy in that awful movie with the bald kid). Executives want to see pictures, a snapshot, a cross-section of what’s going on in the business. It needs to look cool, to look smart. [Think I’m exaggerating? Look at how much infographics have exploded recently. You can argue chicken or egg – but leaders want them.]


Unfortunately, these metrics often fail to make a meaningful connection to the people who actually do the work. They report numbers because they have to in order to make the pretty graphs, but then they turn back to their “real work” and don’t think about what the data is telling them. They are just trying to keep the work moving and ensure they meet their deadlines.

That’s where the leader comes in.

If the metrics truly matter, you will talk about them. Every day. Every team meeting. Every project launch. Every project wrap up.

If the numbers tell you a story about the business, share that story with your employees. Why the numbers are important. What they tell us about our impact on the business, the customers, the employees.

We leaders pretend like it’s the employees fault they don’t know what the metrics are. For goodness’ sake, we posted them on the shared drive!  What more do those darn employees want?!

Employees want – nay, need – context. And employees want – nay, need – their leaders to be the primary voice to provide that context. Supposedly leaders know what their employees do and the day-to-day reality of their world. Who better to be able to provide that line of sight from the work to the metric? Who better to explain why these metrics are helping the business improve? Who better to motivate employees to reach the target state?

At some point, you will notice that the metrics are not moving, or are moving in the wrong direction, or don’t seem to tell the right story. So what happens then?

That’s where the employees come in.

Your employees can help you understand whether your metrics are telling you what you really need to know about the business. They will share whether they think the KPIs make sense, and whether the targets are realistic…or even important. Your employees are the conduit through which the metrics come to life.

So the next time you start pontificating on the importance of your scorecard, think about the last time you looked at it with your team. If it’s been too long, stop pontificating and start communicating.

THAT’S what matters.

Metrics are for doing, not for staring. Never measure just because you can. Measure to learn. Measure to fix.

– Stijn Debrouwere


‘Do you want to play Questions?’ (your secret weapon)

Have you ever read/saw Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?  It’s an amazing play turned into a very good movie about two of the throwaway characters in Hamlet whose claim to fame is that they are outwitted by the brooding prince and executed in England.

In one scene, the two play a game called “Questions” – they must, not so surprisingly, only speak in the form of questions. Hesitation, statements, or non sequiturs are not allowed.  If someone goofs, the other person scores a point (or forfeits, or however you want to play it).

In the play, the scene is meant to further illustrate the limits of language and futility in seeking existential knowledge.  But what it also does is remind us of the POWER of asking questions.

As leaders and as employees, we can benefit from playing our own version Questions when holding important conversations or when confronted with a potentially sensitive situation.  These conversations are filled with potential land mines – your innocent statement or observation could set the other person off because you didn’t know where they were coming from.If-you-ask-cp1weq

Forcing yourself to focus on questions rather than statements has a number of benefits.  You signal you’re willing to listen. Good questioning invites the other person in.  Questioning indicates you’re seeking understanding, rather than imposing your interpretation of events. When you ask questions, you actually have to listen to what the other person is saying, so that your next question makes sense in the context of the conversation.  And an added bonus, asking questions increases the chance that the other person might find their own solution.

There is, however, an art to using the questioning technique effectively.  After all, simply asking “How did that make you feel?” or “So you’re saying that customer was rude to you?” can sound condescending if that’s all you say.  Just follow the Questions rules:

  • No statements: Move the conversation forward with a question rather than your own statement. [And yes, I know that you will have to use SOME statements.  Just try to minimize them.]
  • No repetition: Stay engaged, pay attention.  If you find yourself repeating the other person’s words back to them, or ask the same question over and over, RE-ENGAGE.
  • No synonyms: It’s just a fancy way of repeating.  Show off.
  • No rhetoric: The intent of the questions is to seek clarity, not to stump the other person.  Does this mean every question you ask will be answered? No. But you should give them a fair chance.

So the next time you are in a scenario that could get messy, try following Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s example.  Give yourself a deduction every time you break the rules and see how it turns out.  You might be surprised that all it took to defuse the situation was a few good questions.

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Secret to success? Answer the question that’s asked

Business meetings can be evil things – long, aimless, soul-sucking gatherings where little is accomplished yet much is said.

You can point to a number of reasons:

  1. No one made an agenda
  2. Everyone is on their smartphones, checking email
  3. Someone brought donuts

Okay…maybe it’s not the donuts.  But if you pay attention, you’ll notice a pattern as people talk (and talk and talk).

No one answers any questions.

Oh sure, when someone asks a question, another person inevitably says something that’s supposed to sound like an answer.  There may be big words, emphatic gestures, perhaps even an attempt to gain buy-in (“Right?”).  Rarely, though, is the answer one that matches the question.

And yet…every so often…a hero emerges.

Someone who heard the question, considered it, and…miracle of miracles…ANSWERED IT ON ITS OWN MERITS.

This person looks like a freakin’ genius.


Why would something as simple as answering a question matter?

  • It shows you listened: By addressing the concerns of the asker, you demonstrated an ability to pay attention rather than sing that little song to yourself in your head.  Listening = good.  Singing SexyBack in your head = bad.
  • It shows you care: Okay, it doesn’t make you a saint or anything, but addressing someone else’s concerns rather than advancing your own agenda is perceived as teamwork, leadership, and/or smartness.
  • It moves the meeting forward: Think about the circular nature of most business meetings. Sally says a general statement about how a process doesn’t work, Johnny asks what specifically isn’t working, Ted launches into a monologue about the state of technology in Western Europe…and then Sally mentions how the process doesn’t work.  If Sally or Ted would have said, “Well, Johnny, when you launch the workflow, it goes to the wrong person,” there’s a good chance the group could move on to solutions.  Instead, Ted got on a soapbox and Sally is rending her garments, keening about the process. [Ed. Note: Drama much?]

So how do you make sure you answer the question asked?

  • Pay attention: I know, right?  Be more obvious.  But it’s the truth.  And if there is an awkward pause because you suspect someone asked you a question and you weren’t listening, admit it and ask them to repeat the question.
  • Rephrase: Oldie but goodie.  This doesn’t mean you REPEAT the question, especially if it’s short (“so, you’re asking me if I ski?”). If the question is complex or not well-asked (it happens), take a moment to say something like, “I want to be sure I understand what you’re asking..”
  • Keep it short: The longer you talk, the more likely you are to get off on tangents.  Stick to the point and make yourself shut up once you’ve addressed the matter at hand.
  • Confirm: After you finish answering the question, ask, “Did that answer your question?” That way, the asker can get additional clarity without having to interrupt the next person who starts talking.

I know.  It’s pretty obvious.  But as we all know, common sense isn’t always common practice.

Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the questions asked and the answers given.  Chances are, the person who actually answers the question that is asked is on the fast track to success.

Have a question you want answered? Ask it in the comments!