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Choosing the Right Business Measures

John Howard
John Howard

Measuring and managing with metrics is essential to keeping your business on target. It's critical to choose the right parameters - and then to know how to use them. Measuring with the wrong metrics can do more damage than good.

Getting too obsessed about the numbers can lead to bad decisions and make you forget about the human element, that you're managing people, not robots. And not measuring on at least a monthly, if not weekly, basis can leave problems undiscovered until it's too late to course-correct. But, when you leverage metrics properly, they can be one of the most powerful ways to propel your business to success. Here is an effective metrics-based management strategy that strikes the proper balance.

Measure before you manage

Accountability is fundamental to effective management, but it's impossible to achieve it without tracking each department and individual progress against very specific, measurable goals and objectives. Every element of your business should be measured - marketing, support, operations, sales, finance, engineering, employee performance, and so on. You first need to determine the right metrics and then make sure you have all the tools you need for measurement.

Choose the right metrics

Using metrics is a bit of a double-edged sword, because it can just as easily send you off track as it can bring you greater focus. The key to effective measurement is knowing what to measure. First, you have to really know your business, starting with your core values, vision, and company mission. Ask questions like:

  • What five things will most impact the business in the next 12 months?
  • What are specific revenue objectives, both for the year and for each quarter?
  • What are the "subjective" criteria for success in the next 12 months?

Then pick your metrics based on what matters the most to your business. Set yearly and quarterly company and departmental goals, from which individual objectives are created.

Avoid common metrics pitfalls

Metrics must be extremely clear. A broad goal like "provide better customer support this quarter" can leave everyone, at the end of the quarter, with very different ideas on whether or not that goal was met since there were so specific metrics tied to it. Other common pitfalls avoid include:

  • Metrics with inaccurate or incomplete data
  • Metrics that are complex and difficult to explain
  • Metrics that complicate operations and create excessive overhead
  • Metrics that cause employees to not act in the best interest of the company
  • In brief, metrics should be so clear that an outside person could come in at the end of the quarter and check whether the objectives have been met.

Invest in tools that deliver real-time feedback

To make metrics really effective, you need real-time feedback. Whenever possible, invest in measurement tools that put your metrics at your fingertips. Many of today's business software applications make it easier than ever to quickly and frequently pull data that provides measurement against objectives. You might use Salesforce reports to track sales activities and leads. Or HubSpot for Website rankings and inbound site links. QuickBooks, Excel and other office applications you're already using can be set up to collect and analyse current data.

Whatever measurement tools you use, be sure that they can be integrated and automated as much as possible so you don't spend all your time on number-gathering.

Numerous Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) programs, though tending towards expensive, include numerous functional areas such as Customer Resource Management (CRM), Financial Accounting, Human Resources Management, Supply Chain Management, and Purchasing/e-Commerce, the design of the system is to be modular. This lets you use only the pieces which align to your needs.

At the core, an ERP is the glue that binds other systems together. Indeed, some ERPs let you integrate numerous third-party disparate systems into a unified whole.

"Departmental Dashboards" are also a feature on some ERP programs.

Using the dashboards, management is able to quickly view the status of every group in the organisational meetings.

Share metrics with employees

One of the most important and often missed reasons to track metrics is cultural. Many employee conscious businesses share metrics and results not only with management, but with every employee. At all-hands meetings, they go through slides that are also shared with the board of directors. Screening in the common area shows monthly, sometimes, weekly highlights - and challenges. Maintaining transparency and celebrating big wins leads to a culture of success, where everyone is on the same page and motivated toward unified goals.

Remember that accountability starts at the top. Business leaders don't always recognise how closely employees will follow their example. But if you want your workers to take goal-setting seriously, you should be prepared to share your own goals - as well as how you came out on delivering on them at the end of the quarter. Such transparency shows your team that you are in the trenches with them, making every effort to achieve what you set out to do - even if your targets were off.

Continually question, re-evaluate, and refine

Keep in mind that you will need to re-evaluate and adjust your metrics as your business priorities change. Every week, month, and quarter is a new opportunity to test and refine your ability to set and track metrics that will drive growth. When you invest time and thought into setting, monitoring, sharing, and refining your metrics, you'll be amazed at how much more in tune you are to the state of your business, and how much more easily you can make the critical decisions that can catapult your business' success.
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