Metrics. Boon or bane? It’s all in how they’re used.

black and white American printed wall with flag of America

Metrics, scores, numbers, they rule so much of our lives. The problem is that unless you are playing a sport or game with defined rules as to the length of the game and the criteria for winning, metrics are just that, metrics, and they can only track progress or regress, not winning or losing.

In real life as opposed to sports, we don’t have winners and losers. While we may say things like “XYC Co. won because they made a lot of money this year,” there really are no winners because there are no rules and no agreed upon criteria for what a “win” is. (For more, read Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game).

Essentially, our standard for success is faulty. Arbitrary timelines are set to reach a number. Why? What if it’s reached tomorrow? What if it’s reached a day early? It’s not the goal, it’s the timeline that makes no sense.

Timelines are subject to variables. The whims of customers, another company with another product, an unexpected breakdown in machinery, employee dissatisfaction, and that’s just a shortlist, I didn’t even mention weather, health crises, climate change, or Zoom crashing.

Metrics. Don’t trash them, just use them right. Track progress. Track regress. Track what’s happening. But don’t base success on reaching a number by a deadline. Rather, base success on progress and use any regress or shortcomings as opportunities to coach. Time is meaningless in a game with no winners. In the no-win-or-lose game, staying in the game is what matters, and staying in the game means getting better, steadily and consistently. No winners, no losers, just questions and understanding. That’s what metrics do.

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