Stephen King had a dream; he wanted to be a successful author. Jerry Seinfeld had a dream; he wanted to be a successful comedian. 

You have a dream; you want to achieve, to accomplish, to be something.

Hold that thought.

Most businesses -- most people -- focus on measuring results and outcomes. Want to know your revenue for the month? Easy: Add up your sales. Want to know your safety record for the month? Easy: Add up your recordable accidents. Want to know how much weight you lost? Easy: Hop on a scale.

Results are lag metrics. They show what happened -- or, in the case of a goal, what you want to happen. Lag metrics are easy to set. And simple to track. 

But useless in terms of predicting, much less influencing, the future.

That's where lead metrics come in.

Lead metrics are predictive of achieving a long-term goal:

  • Want to increase revenue? Increase ad spending. Make more sales calls.
  • Want to improve safety? Require hard hats on the factory floor. Enforce lock-out/tag-out procedures.
  • Want to lose weight? Consume fewer calories, and exercise more.

Stephen King's lag metric -- his goal -- was to make a living as a writer. So every day after work and every weekend he never wrote less than 2,000 words.

King knew that having stories and novels to sell meant actually writing stories and novels. The process, the lead metric, was the focus -- because without it, he could never achieve his lag metric. 

Seinfeld's lag metric was to become a successful comedian. Early on, he realized the path to becoming a better comedian was to write better jokes. The performance, the lag metric, was the end product.

Good jokes were the foundation -- and having good jokes meant writing every day. 

So Seinfeld hung a calendar on the wall, and every day, once he had accomplished his lead indicator -- writing one new joke every day -- he put a red X over that date.

As Seinfeld told Brad Isaac

After a few days, you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.

Your only job is to not break the chain.

The goal -- the lag metric -- informs the process you create for achieving that goal. The lag metric tells you what you want to happen; your lead metrics describe how you will get there.

That's the beauty of lead metrics. They're reasonably predictive: Do the work, and you will achieve some level of success.

Which makes lead metrics much more important than lag metrics: Because doing the work, day after day, is the only way that success will follow.

Try it. Pick a goal. Pick a lag metric. Then reverse-engineer the lead metrics that will get you there. 

If you want to hit $30,000 in sales per month, use your current results to determine how many additional leads and sales calls you need to generate and make. Then create a daily process, and commit to checking off the boxes on your calendar.

If you want to improve safety, focus on lead metrics that predict success: Mandatory equipment. Refresher training. Even how long it takes a manager to respond to an accident report, since a rapid response indicates a commitment to finding and eliminating root causes. Then track those lead metrics, because they give you a much better chance of hitting your lag metric.

If your lag metric is losing 10 pounds, focus on a lead metric that predicts success: Consume fewer calories than you burn. Do that, and you'll hit your lag metric. 

Choose lead metrics that predict success, and then track your performance to those metrics.

Lag metrics? They can only tell you where you are.

Lead metrics tell you how to get to where you want to be.

Because success is achieved only by doing the right things, day after day after day.