Number

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure."  

- W. Edwards Deming


One of my current favorite leaders comes from more of a ministry than a business background.  He is an incredibly capable leader who runs a very successful business.  It has been a beautiful thing to watch him embrace best business practices and apply them with vigor.

In the last 11 months he has:

  • built a leadership team
  • started a meeting rhythm
  • established core values and purpose
  • worked on a future vision
  • solved strategic and tactical issues
  • redefined crucial positions
  • restructured his company
  • positioned his company to follow up the incredible performance of this year with an even better one next year.

He hit a little bit of a roadblock, however, when we got to measuring the company’s progress and success.  We worked with him and other leaders to define KPIs (key performance indicators), put together a dashboard, and try to define one key win number for the team.  He was dubious about the benefit of doing any of this.

When we met this morning, he said that he reluctantly chose one number to focus the team on and measure.  

He said,

“I’m shocked at how powerful that one number has been!”

Once the team began to discuss the number and determine each area’s contribution to achieving the target for the number, it began to change everything.

  • a sense of ownership
  • business focus
  • marketing
  • sales
  • etc.

In order to achieve the desired level of success on this singular number, virtually every aspect of the company is going to need to change.  

So simple.

So beautiful.

So powerful.

Most companies we talk to have reams of numbers and pages of standard reports, but asking two simple questions really clarifies the understanding and benefit of all those numbers:

  • How is your company doing?
  • How do you know?

Meaning, what numbers confirm your success or failure?  If I asked your key leadership would they answer the same?  

Ideally, just a few of the right key numbers will tell you what is really going on.  The numbers will often contradict the gut feel of a leader.  Sometimes things are actually far better or far worse than a leader imagines from a point of almost pure conjecture.

In the movie “Moneyball” Peter Brand says that baseball is medieval.  It relies on sight and a whole manner of other biases and rules of thumb to determine future superstars.  It is an inefficient and largely inaccurate way of doing things.  He goes on to say:

“It's about getting things down to one number. Using stats to reread them, we'll find the value of players that nobody else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that.”

Many of us who run businesses operate the same way.  We often rely on gut, conjecture, or a few numbers that don’t tell the entire story.  Getting to the right set of numbers (even the one right number) cuts through all that.  Focusing on the right number(s) can change everything.

Just ask my friend.  He’ll tell ya.

Consider

  • How is your company doing?
  • How do you know?
  • Are you focusing on the right numbers?  Is your team focusing on the same?
  • How much clarity, momentum, and success is not knowing, costing you?