The tyranny of metrics is that I keep looking at my page views on this blog, my subscriber count, my Klout score, my blog rating, and I can’t stop. I have to keep blogging, tweeting, and conversing, or else it goes down. There is no taking a pause, no relaxation, or my rating goes down. There’s even that Small Business Influencers voting going on right now, and I’m watching that too.
Before that it was unit sales of Business Plan Pro, web views, conversion rates, and profits. And before that it was sales and profits in earlier jobs, column inches published, newspapers using UPI vs. AP, GPA in grad school, GPA in college, GMAT and SAT, GPA in high school.
It never ends. Did you think when you got out of high school you’d be able to forget metrics like GPA or SAT? Or that when you got out of college you’d be able to forget that GPA and the GMAT? Probably not.
Which is also the magic of metrics too. Because most of us don’t want the numbers to end. “Immeasurement,” as Patrick Lencioni calls it, makes us miserable.
Patrick is the author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. And he says most people want and need and want our metrics. “Immeasurement” makes us miserable. Here’s a quote from a blog post he wrote:
All human beings in any kind of a job need some way to assess their own performance that’s objective. It might not be numerical or easily quantitative, but it’s somewhat objective and observable by them, because then they are not left to depend upon the opinion or the whim of a manager once a year during a performance appraisal. People need to be able to go home from work every night, or every week, or every month, and know where they stand, and know what they can do to influence how they’re working.
So yes, metrics are pushy, but yes, metrics help you and others to care about what you do. You want your numbers going up. And you want your peers to see your numbers going up. And that leads us directly to the management benefits of simple metrics. If there is some objective score to keep, then it’s objective, it’s motivating, and it helps us manage a team. To me, that’s supposed to be in the live business planning that sets up metrics and gets reviewed regularly. Others might call that a scorecard system, or critical factors … there are lots of ways to develop that same core function of metrics and management.
So choose the right numbers to follow.
The thing with metrics is that they usually measure quantity and not quality. And with this note, metrics always helped me to work towards the right direction.
Inspiring Tim, as always 🙂
I’m going to go against the grain and say that I don’t care about metrics. I care about the change I effect and how it makes me feel. I don’t care if I sell more widgets or write more lines of code than the guy in the next cube. Yes it’s something easily measured, but it doesn’t *mean* anything. Did I help a customer solve a point of pain, or did I come up with a new technique that is going to change how other developers write code? That is how I measure myself: by the impact of the results. It’s not something you can put on a whiteboard. It comes from within. I don’t care whether it can be measured by anyone else because all I really care about is how I measure myself.
One of my old mentors, George Plossl, used to say “You can not control what you do not measure”. Visibility is key. Whether it’s a white board that shows a tally of sales for each salesperson or a scorecard at the golf course, visible measurements will improve performance.
Good reminder that metrics are nothing new. Long before there was Klout, we just found other things to count. Measurement, as you say, is something that we crave.
Still, I’m not sure that the visibility of these numbers is a good thing. Grades, performance reviews and so forth used to be private affairs — you got your score, you knew what to work on, and it was nobody else’s business. Now we’ve got badges and banners proclaiming our stats to the world, and we can’t let the numbers slip for fear of losing face.
Are these metrics addictive? Absolutely. But I think there’s something to be said for keeping our addictions private.