Numbers aren’t always the answer

My background is in data analysis, so I do and love numbers. I’m all for KPIs / MBOs / OKRs / BRBs / ROFLs etc.

Except when they don’t work.

Business leaders need to accept that there are many desirably outcomes for their companies and teams that can’t be easily measured. Leadership. Teamwork. Even customer satisfaction.

We may come up with proxies for these. (In)Famously, Net Promotor Score for customer sat for example. But leaders would be wise to bear the following 3 things in mind:

  1. The proxy is not the reality. So don’t forget that your team’s goal is the outcome, not the proxy result. I love (and regularly misquote) the maxim that when the map and the terrain disagree, trust the terrain.
  2. Don’t avoid a worthwhile goal simply because you can’t find a good proxy metric. Likewise, don’t shoehorn in a metric because you feel you must have one for every goal. Trust your own humanity and leadership to make the call if you can’t find a good proxy.
  3. Provide direction. A team that knows where it should be headed is more likely to pursue the right outcomes regardless of your metric-setting.

Then again, wisdom is hard to measure. So maybe you should ignore these suggestions!

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