Monday, December 14, 2015

Tracking Metrics Isn't Easy or Free

One thing that's apparent to most people when they become serious about actually achieving their vision is that identifying the right metrics is paramount. If you aren't measuring the thing that actually translates to progress, then you have no way of knowing if your vision is being achieved.

What is sometimes less apparent is how difficult and time consuming it can sometimes be to actually track those metrics. Collecting data, organizing it, sharing it with others, thinking about what it means--these tasks all require time and effort. Too often, in my experience, these tasks are just assumed. The time it takes to perform them is never included in the calculations associated with staff time and focus. As a result, sometimes an unmanageable number of metrics are put on the organization's plate, preventing it from accomplishing the success it might otherwise have.

In my own organization I've tried to protect against this by concretely assigning the task of tracking each of our metrics to an individual staff member. In the language I've introduced before, tracking and reporting on the metric is a Program Objective in and of itself. It is included and given equal weight in the list of things a staff person is held accountable for.

Yes, we want you to lead a team in organizing our Fall Conference, but we also want you to track the number and types of members registering for it, compare those numbers to the pace of registrations in previous years, report the latest data at each of our weekly staff meetings, and lead your team in discussions about new actions to take that can help drive those numbers towards our goals.

That's a lot of work--important work--that deserves to be recognized with an intentional allocation of a staff person's most limited resource: time.

And some metrics are more difficult to track than others. Weekly tracking of conference registrations is fairly easy. But what if the metric requires data that isn't readily available to the association? Metrics like the number of members who are learning something new at the conference and applying it in their professional lives? You can't run a weekly report out of your registration database to get to the bottom of that one. Someone, somewhere is going to need to design and implement a discrete data collection mechanism. Something, in this example, that may require pre- and post surveys, phone interviews and education audits. Who in their right mind would think that is something they can just tack onto someone's plate without any ramifications to their overall output?

And yet, that is what often happens. By all means, choose your metrics carefully to make sure you're tracking the right things. But don't forget to allocate the appropriate time to track them. They won't tell you want you want to know unless you do.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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