Measure Twice, Act Once
Think for a moment about the pervasive and powerful role measurement plays in our daily lives. We spend a lot of time every day measuring things: dates, time, size, weight, speed, temperature, distance. The list goes on and on. There is nothing particularly magical about any of these forms of measurement, yet they provide much of the baseline data that guides many of our decisions and actions.
What makes measurement so powerful is its capacity to instigate action, to motivate people to either do more of the same thing or to change their behavior entirely. We would be lost in business without measurement. You need ways to assess which employees contribute how much to the company's success and merit advancement, and which products (and prices) get what kind of responses from which customers. You probably have numbers swimming around in your head all day, virtually all of which are measures of some kind, data points that influence everything you do. You might crave an occasional escape from all those numbers, but by reminding yourself of all the things that good measurement can do, you might, in fact, be motivated to do it even better.
Measurement cuts through the B.S.
People can (and often do) advance their points of view with incredible vagueness, not to mention a lot of verbiage. Until, that is, they are challenged "to measure it." When you have the data, debate often gives way to clarity.
It makes performance visible
Even if you can't see performance directly, you can see it indirectly using measurement and data. This kind of data tells you what you need to manage in order to get the results you want. Identifying and using the right data will enable you identify, understand, and discuss the high-leverage relationships that drive results, and apply them to your benefit--and to the benefit of your organization.
Measurement makes accountability possible
It's difficult to hold yourself or anyone else accountable for something that is not being measured because there's no way to determine whether what's supposed to be done has actually been accomplished. Measurement tells you whether you (and your employees) are doing the right things at the right times. It is the essence of accountability.
Measurement lets people know if they are on or off track
Measurement is the essence of effective feedback. Provide your people with the data they need to assess whether or not they are doing a good job and you might be surprised by how quickly and effectively they respond.
Measurement helps employees focus
If you don't measure it, people won't pay attention to it. As management professor James Belasco puts it, "Measure it or forget it."
Measurement is the antidote to complacency
One of the most effective forms of measurement is to pursue projects based on a series of milestones. This form of measurement keeps people moving towards a goal, whereas open-ended timeframes inevitably lead to complacency and low energy.
Bottom line: If you want to change or improve anything in your company (or your life) start by measuring it. Determine the data points you need to navigate from where you are to where you want to be. Gather and assess that data religiously. You'll be glad you did.
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While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest Inc.com columns, and visit him anytime at petereconomy.com.