Measuring progress is not a way to find criticism or define business success. Business success is realization of the vision for your customers through your business. Any measuring framework is designed to advise on the health of the actions, processes, and the overall business. It is not the cure or medication. For example in healthcare industry, all of the modern technology is geared to produce the same result that doctors in prior centuries did – prescribed the right drug so the patient lives and/or has a better quality of life. Measuring anything is to find if your hypothesis on realizing the vision is on track or needs modifications. Execution is the medicine but it has to prescribed correctly.
Activity & Output
When measuring, just like in writing a resume, you should concentrate on the outcomes not activity or output. Concentrate on the outcomes you really want. The classic business thought is “activities are basic units of competitive advantage. Overall advantage or disadvantage results from all company’s activities, not only a few” (Michael Porter, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1996, Website). Analysis paralysis could set in if a business owner creates KPIs for every activity. As my coach told me, any measurement should be a few but distinct. I should not use measures like a drunk men using lamp post – for support not illumination. Here is an example of improper measurements from Anthony Iannarino (thesalesblog.com, 2012, Website) :
Sales managers should have no interest in requiring or measuring the number of cold calls a salesperson makes. It’s irrelevant. The measurement of calls is only useful in determining whether a new salesperson has an efficiency problem (like too little activity) or an effectiveness problem (like the need for more training). But beyond that, the raw number of calls tells you nothing about how the salesperson is doing. The calls are activity, not outcomes. A salesperson can succeed at making the number of required calls and still not succeed in their job.
As a leader, you should also look for the distinction between output and outcomes. Outcomes are the difference made by the outputs (Deborah Mills-Scofield, HBR.com, 2012, Website). Output includes revenue and profit. I would classify the unique selling proposition as an output. Every business should be judged not by its answers but by its question. The output or “the what” of firm should be seen in the context of “the big WHY” – the relationships and the consistent user experience maintained over time.
Outcome measures the change that has occurred as the result of your product or service. The underlying assumption of all marketing strategy is the willingness of consumer to pay for the goods. From my experience, a customer need to build a sense of safety with a product or information before they can have trust in the company. Below is a list of suggested questions you should be able to answer with your outcome
- Are the outcomes related to the “core business” of your organization or program?
- Is it within your control to influence these outcomes?
- Are your outcomes realistic and attainable? Are your outcomes achievable within funding and reporting periods?
- Have you moved beyond client satisfaction in your outcomes?
- Is there a logical sequence among your short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes?
- Are there any big “leaps” in your outcomes, i.e., gaps in the progression of impacts?
Generally speaking, there are five different types of outcome you can adopt – financial (for the clients), behavioral, attitudinal (ex. Express delight with the new product), technical (ex. faster page load), and experiential (ex. customers receive more consistent and accurate information when they need it) (inspired from Jill Purse, ThoughtFarmer, 2014, Website).
Review of Definitions
- Activity – Any activity that is engaged in for the primary purpose of making a profit.
- Output – The direct and measurable products of a program’s activities or services, often expressed in terms of units (hours, number of people or completed actions); typically designated as the accomplishment or product of the activity (University of Wisconsin-Extention)); enables business to find outcomes: important products, services, profits, and revenues.
- Outcome – Create meanings, relationships; answers, “What difference does output/activity make?”; user experience.