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Why metrics matter

Chase Damiano
15 min read
Why metrics matter

You’ve probably heard this 1,000 times by now. All sorts of authors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders out there talk about the value of measuring. Using language like “measure what matters” and “what gets measured gets managed.”​

You may even notice some “anti-goal setting” sentiments out there too. Indeed, there are unintended consequences of goals and measures in an organizations. Namely—you get what you ask for, so set your measures wisely and mindfully. Else, you might have a case of Goals Gone Wild.​

I’d like to share my take in the context of getting out of the weeds and creating mental clarity.

The engineer within me maintains a deep desire for measures. To reduce the organization down to a series of quantitative values that I know, for me at least, could give myself peace of mind. As a COO, I voiced that measures would be “our thing” within our organization.

Until I realized just how daunting of a task that would be.​

We made many attempts:

We invented a process called the “Control Tower” that unified disparate departments together—just for us to talk about numbers. And it required an ex-McKinsey consultant for us to set up.

We implemented quarterly “Missions” to identify our goals every quarter—yet most meetings had limited participation and reporting.

We built complicated spreadsheets with macros just to report on our financials. The kind of spreadsheets that took a dedicated computer and 30 minutes to boot up (!).

We invested 5-figures into getting a custom dashboard spun up to report to us 100s of metrics all across the board—only to create zero participation yet again.

Every time I demanded metrics, it was if the organization organically pushed back and rejected the notion. None of these initiatives “stuck” in the way I expected. Why wasn’t the team responding to our “obvious” need for measurement?

My biggest lesson learned from these experiences was: teaching the value of measurement comes first.

Overcoming obstacles

Metrics are clarifying and focusing for an organization—but it can feel like an uphill battle translating this to a team. If we could create a culture of metrics, it helps us stay out of the weeds.

Our three obstacles to overcome:

  • The right metrics
  • The right behaviors
  • The right expectations

Let’s explore each.

The right metrics

How do we choose the right metrics? It’s about strategy and intent. I think about three key areas:

  • Growth. Measures of adding customers, expanding revenue, launching new products, and capturing more market share.
  • Efficiency. Measures of quality, speed, throughput, and the conversion of revenue into profit.
  • Culture. “Measures” of alignment, team engagement, and employee listening. (I put “measures” in quotes, because, true to overanalyzing everything, humans are humans and cannot be reduced to measures. There’s intuition and a gut sense.)

It’s our duty to share the “why” underneath these. Else, we may fall victim to creating noise in our metrics with our team. Even worse, we may find high-performers hyperfocusing on their individual “department,” instead of paying attention to organizational progress.

I see this in the well-known rift between Sales functions and Operations functions (Operations, here, meaning anything involved in the delivery of your product or service. It’s Product and Engineering. It’s Delivery. It’s Client Services. It’s Production and Distribution.)

Sales hyperfocuses on Growth metrics. Operations hyperfocuses on Efficiency. And, it creates tension between these groups, because, to them, it looks like optimizing for one means the sacrificing of the other.

Why do they think this way? Because that’s what we’ve taught them. We’ve issued job descriptions that literally give them a focus. We’ve told them we’re counting on their performance in their specific domain. So, their incentive to work cross-functionally is lower. They might tell themselves: “I’m not interested in helping Sales, because I need to focus on Efficiency, so I don’t get fired.”

As leaders within the organization, it’s up to us to teach our teams how to mindfully integrate the functions together and work as a team for a single organization. We do this by practicing the right behaviors.​

The right behaviors

Two core team behaviors help align the organization to a singular point of focus:

  • Centralize metrics into a single dashboard
  • Review publicly as a team, every week

It’s the act of repeatedly observing results that drives attention to change.

If these are truly the most important numbers, don’t they deserve some dedicated, consistent attention? Wouldn’t it be valuable to educate the team on why these numbers are important to the organization as a whole?

Everyone needs to see every number, every week.

One note: I see entrepreneurs get caught in the dashboard piece: mainly in pursuit of the proper tool. The same way I’ve gotten caught before: overbuilt spreadsheets, custom software, shopping for software between Asana, Lattice, Notion. You may be tempted to think this is a platform issue.

It’s not. It’s more about creating a cultural behavior of reviewing performance. A simple Google Sheets will do.

Here’s a Team Scorecard I built as an example. Be sure to check out each tab for examples in various industries.

Where do we review it as a team? Run a weekly Team Sync. If it looks like the EOS Level 10 Meeting format, it’s because it is—with a twist. It isn’t just for the leadership team: it’s for every manager running a department.

The tl;dr: Review the metrics with everyone present. You may feel it’s a waste of time for Sales to hear about the metrics important to Operations—but it’s not. You’re teaching others in the organization how all of the functions fit together.

The right expectations

I wrote about this on LinkedIn, but in brief, we need to teach our teams to love the numbers.

I believe the owner of the metrics is responsible for the reporting. A trap entrepreneurs fall into is doing the reporting for their teams, meaning, we run the numbers, build the automations, create the reports that make reporting simple and easy for the manager to do. Where it fails is in the psychological transition of ownership.

It can create a situation in which:

  • The manager joins the Team Sync and seeing their metrics for the first time.
  • The manager can’t comment or contextualize the numbers, because they do not understand why the numbers are the numbers.

This means, especially in the beginning, the literal data entry of numbers must be done by the manager themselves. Open up the spreadsheet and type it in.

Even worse, the most frustrating part of metrics for any executive is when the team shows up without the metrics. It means there’s a gap in understanding we need to close.

The bandaid solution: When folks show up in a meeting without the numbers, ask them to report the numbers now. That might mean spending the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting manually downloading csvs, counting cells, and digging into the data. Don’t have all the data? Ask them to report their best-estimated guess, here in this moment together. Something is better than nothing.

The deeper solution: Offer private feedback in your 1-1 using a riff on non-violent communication:

“Are you in a position to receive feedback?”

“I noticed you attended our Team Sync meeting without having your metrics completed.”

“Because the metrics weren’t completed, we, as a company, are not fully able to assess our progress and learn what’s working (and what’s not).”

“The story I’m telling myself is you don’t understand the value of reporting, or you’re unsure how to do it.”

“How do you see it?”

This will offer insight into deeper reasons behind the miss. You may find fear or insecurity, distrust or lack of safety. Coach them around the value of reporting metrics by asking, “When you’re asked to report your numbers, what comes up for you?”

Staying out of the weeds

The more our team understand the value of metrics—the easier it is for all of us to stay out of the weeds. Communication is simplified, streamlined, and focused. Individuals begin to understand a broader context and a bigger picture behind their work. And for us, it helps us make decisions in favor of the numbers.

Where can I help and show you more? I’d love to hear from you.

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