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by Mike Smith
I’m sure most AchieveGlobal Blog readers enjoyed the Olympics, in particular the extraordinary achievements of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps.
For each Olympic fortnight, Michael trains for four years following a grueling routine of Sleep, Swim, Eat, Swim, Eat, Sleep (repeat) with the sole purpose of remaining the fastest swimmer in the world.
So how does he know he has achieved his goal? One simple metric: time – to thousandths of a second, of course – with a different target for each of his disciplines. When he exceeds a target, he sets a new one and the process continues.
If only business metrics were that simple. We all recognize the value of measurement, and we wrestle every day with how to do it accurately and consistently. Corporate Dashboards, KPIs, ROI, EBITDA – pick your buzzword and/or acronym – are all (should I say it?) immeasurably more complicated than Michael Phelps’s time in 100m butterfly. It’s a wonder we get anything done apart from the measurement alone. What we do with that information, well, that’s a tale for another day.
The cynic might say, after Mark Twain and others, “You’ve got three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and metrics.” For what it’s worth (recognizing you can manipulate data to support a fundamentally wrong decision), I believe that metrics tell the truth. The question is, “Which truth?” Measurement is complex because organizations are complex, with multiple ways to measure multiple causes of every aspect of performance. How do we sort through the white noise of multiple measures and get to the true performance?
One thing is for sure, that task is a lot more complex than watching the Olympic stopwatch.