Metrics, Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

The Power of Metrics

I am a metrics geek. A bit too much some would say. Often I try and make a stop and ask myself why I ask each piece of information. Mostly, it helps me tell a story. And stories really help me understand a business.

Is that for every everyone?

I recognise numbers may not be for everyone. But if you are managing a business, then numbers need to be for you. Because numbers will be the best alternative to you telling your own story in your head.

Now, they don’t need to be only revenues or profits, that is now what I am talking about. But they need to be somewhat measurable.

Rolling out metrics

Rolling out metrics is hard. I have spent the last couple of years doing it for my day job. Some people don’t get it, mostly because it is obvious to them. Others don’t like it, mostly because they tell a story they are not keen to share. And many of these metrics will be difficult to collect so resistance is everywhere.

Let’s face it. Me being the metrics geek that I am, I have not rolled out a formal metrics dashboard for UPG. I have written it in paper, I have subsets of it, but with the fear of imposing too much process I have not done it. I will, no later than year-end though. I have to practice what I preach.

Using metrics

The key reason why I have not rolled out metrics yet at UPG is because I am afraid I won’t put enough time into analysing them. And metrics are worth nothing if they are just to sit in someone’s email.

There are 3 steps to utilising metrics:

Step 1: Make time

At work, I make a constant re-invention of incentivising myself or the team to actually analyse the metrics. If you are not going to be making time to go through them, just don’t bother.  We feel great about creating all this information about the business but if we are not actually doing anything with it, it is the same as not having it at all. Or worse, because having a dashboard gives us a false sense of confidence that we are on top of things. Make a CEO date with yourself and bring papers to the party.

Step 2: Analyse and Challenge

As I said, metrics tell me stories. An individual piece of data may not tell me much; but when associated with 2 other data points may show me a trend or something to worry about.

When I was looking at ALG fundraising numbers last week, my first conclusion was ‘OMG what a disaster’. However, when digging in and analysing each source, the story was different and very focused.

Your analysis must include challenge. Challenge of the status quo. So ideally you don’t look for positive justifications for numbers that don’t look to good, but actually use it as root cause analysis. Really finding out what is deviating you from due course is what is the most valuable, so you can course correct fairly quickly. Agile style.

Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely important to also know what is working in your company. You can ensure you double down or allocate more resources, but it is less of a loss if you don’t do it straight away than correcting a mistake.

Step 3: Take action

It will sound obvious but metrics have the single purpose of guiding your action. There is nothing about them to make you feel good or miserable. Rather the purpose of knowing the story of what is happening is so that you can affect the outcome.

Is the social media strategy you followed not yielding results? Change it? Is the new distribution channel you found flooding you with clients, over-resource it (provided you can deal with all those clients).

Metrics are constant health assessments and you can chose to add carbs or veggies to your diet anytime.

Metrics and Targets

Now the debate may be – does each metric need a target? In an ideal world, you want specific goals for everything. You need to know where you are going. However, there is a good chance that not all your metrics are (yet) very tangible. Especially if you are just starting and you are still figuring what which metrics tell a story about your business.

I do try and make sure metrics have targets, but in fact what may be happening is that some of them may just have a direction. It is a fight I have at least once a quarter. But in the absence of a specific target, trends will do. You can look at progression over time, and speed of acceleration or slowdown. Another way to look at it is to have milestones. You know where you need to get to and how fast you are getting there (or not).

Having a north ensures you know where you want these metrics to go. And ensure you know when you are off track

Metrics and Timings

Metrics can be short or long term. Some of them will not change over the period of a month (if that is how often you are looking) and others will need to be looked at every week. They all count, and they all contribute to the story.

In the short term, key financial metrics and more dynamic impact ones will be going at the speed that the business is growing. They need to be looked at on a regular basis. The good part is perhaps you don’t need as much time sitting down and looking through every single one of them. A quick check that things are going within the expected trend can sometimes suffice for short term metrics. However, short term metrics allow you to also have good long term trends which are often ignored so make sure you keep the historical data in a way that you can assess it dynamically.

Example: In UPG, I look at funds raised and funds disbursed on a monthly basis. It tells me A story. But then I also like to put the months and seasonality into context. And that one can be completely different.

But life is not all short term, so it is key to also have long term metrics. These may be more relevant over the period of quarters or even years. Like when I look at # of donors of # of children, I don’t expect these to fluctuate monthly. But I do want to look at the evolution of these over time when I sit down with a longer term perspective on the business.

Metrics in Life

Yes, I have metrics in life too. Come on, you would expect that. I have actually started publishing these weekly on my newsletter. I chose 1 area that is important to track and 2 areas that I am focused on improving:

  • My mood average for the week, rated 1 to 10, where I just focus on improvements (or not) versus the week before
  • My sleep hours, with a target of 7 hours per night and how I do versus this average (so far not achieved)
  • My mobile screen time, with a target of <2 hours per day which is clearly a fail at the moment, but I am striving for improvements

As you can see, metrics can really be used for anything. I like to use them in business, I am afraid to use them on my “side gig” UPG, but I have braved into it in my personal growth space. Aligned with your goals, metrics are powerful ways to keep you focused … and honest.

Go on – get your pen and paper out. And write down where you could start.

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

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