People often asked me: Bernard, does measuring performance really help us improve? Can KPIs and metrics make a tangible difference in our businesses? And my answer is always a big and resounding YES!
In fact, I start my latest book ‘Key Performance Indicators – the 75+ measures every manager needs to know’ with the words “Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the vital navigation instruments used by managers to understand whether their business is on a successful voyage or whether it is veering off the prosperous path. The right set of indicators will shine light on performance and highlight areas that need attention. ‘What gets measured gets done’ and ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ are just two of the popular sayings used to highlight the critical importance of metrics. Without the right KPIs managers are sailing blind.”
Three examples to illustrate the power of KPIs
Let me paint you three scenarios that I hope convince you (if you need convincing that is) and others that KPIs are indeed vital drivers of success. The little twist is that I haven’t taken these examples from any of the businesses I work with but from everyday life so we can all easily relate to them. The first is loosing weight, the second is getting fit, and the third is about brushing your teeth. Here we go…
How KPIs can help you loose weight
I know it’s not great to talk about loosing weight in January (especially as most of us will have broken our New Year’s resolutions by now). However, while many of us would like to loose a few pounds or so, we often struggle to do this. While our aims and intentions are clearly there, we somehow don’t manage to do it. I was in exactly that position (and as it is January – I am again), where I wanted to shift some of the extra pounds I put on over the holiday season. I was trying to eat well and exercise more but wasn’t loosing the weight I was hoping to lose. So when my friends were asking me ‘how many calories to you eat a day?’ and ‘how many calories do you burn off?’ I couldn’t really answer that. So I started to go about this a little more systematically by setting targets and measuring my performance. I set myself a body-mass target that I wanted to achieve within a given time period. I could then figure out the daily amount of calories I needed to stay within to achieve that. What helped was that I found a great smart-phone app that allowed me to track my progress. It allows me to monitor how many calories I am eating. This particular app has most foods pre-installed so it is simply a matter of putting it in and if you eat something that is not you can use the in-built bar code scanner to find the calorie content – great fun! Anyway, because I was now regularly monitoring the amount of calories I was consuming and could see how I was doing compared to my daily target I was loosing the weight I wanted. This is exactly why weight-loss programs like Weight-Watchers work: they set targets, then help you to measure performance and regularly review progress. So here we have it, KPIs do work when you want to loose weight.
How KPIs can help you get fit?
I am sorry to talk about another one of those New Year resolutions at the end of January, but when it comes to getting fit KPIs are great, too. To keep fit I am trying to run regularly and I am keeping track on how many miles I have run, what my average running speed is and how many calories I have burnt (which comes in handy when used in conjunction with the loosing weight app where I can put in calories I have bunt off doing exercise). Those of you who know me know that I am a gadget man, so how do I measure my running performance? Yes – another app. I use the latest Nike+ GPS app (highly recommended buy the way), which uses the geo-positioning chip of my iPhone to track my runs. So each time I am running the phone tracks (and maps) where I have been, how many miles I have run, what my average speed was, how many calories I have burnt, etc. Above that, whenever I switch the app on to go for my next run it asks whether I want to challenge myself to e.g. go a little further or a little quicker and the phone tells me along the way how I am doing. It even allows me to compete against others and publish my runs (live) on Facebook or Twitter which would allow my friends to track my progress and even cheer me on (don’t worry for those who follow me on Twitter – I am not going to bore you with my runs). So, in summary, I am running more often and am able to push myself further because I am measuring and tracking my performance.
How KPIs can make your teeth shinier
My final example is brushing your teeth. We all know that we should brush our teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day. A few years ago my dentist introduced a dental scorecard and gave everyone a score out of 100 – basically the better you brush and take care of your teeth the better the score. My score wasn’t bad and I was brushing my teeth twice a day but couldn’t really tell you whether it was two minutes or not. My dentist also recommended using an electric toothbrush because it cleans so much better. And as I love gadgets I had to have the one with the little wireless wall display telling me how long I have been brushing for. What is magic about that tooth brush is that you get a little smiley face after two minutes and a smiley face with a wink after two and a half minutes or so. Again, by measuring by brushing performance I have had so many moments when I thought okay – brushing finished – only to check my timer and find out that I have a little longer to go – and generally I keep going to at least the winking smiley face! Since I got that toothbrush by dentist scorecard has improved to an excellent score.
I hope that these are useful examples to show that KPIs do work and help us improve performance. There are so many more great examples of where KPIs and metrics make a real difference in everyday life and I would love to hear form you if you have any stories to share. Please let me know and help us spread the word that KPIs do work…
Bernard, only one question i have. How do you manage so many gadgets in Life :-) – Saurabh Khurana (PM – BI/Qlikview Implementations)
I believe that just using KPIs (measuring) is just a 20% of success, what is more important is your actions (management).
When we talk about some simple action-measure-result chain, like making teeth shinier, then a single KPI would be great, no need to complicate the case.
If the goal is to control something more complex, like dental practice, then KPIs should be incorporated into the Balanced Scorecard. Here is my research on this very topic:
To my opinion, the advantage of the Balanced Scorecard approach is that business (in this case a dental practice) doesn’t start with KPIs, but with strategic objective, adding initiatives, where the progress is measured with KPIs. Otherwise, business might measure something that looks like useful information, but is not linked to any strategic objective of this very business.