Monday, January 4, 2016

Take Baby Steps Towards the Right Metrics

A few weeks ago I wrote about how Tracking Metrics Isn't Easy or Free, arguing that the process of measuring, analyzing, and acting on metrics is a set of tasks that deserves to be--and often isn't--recognized with an intentional allocation of a staff person's most limited resource: time.

Here's another fact about metrics that many organizations get wrong. The first metrics you select won't be the right ones, but you need to measure them anyway.

Why won't they be the right ones? Because metrics are inherently tricky things. The things you immediately think of as being important to track almost never are, because the things you immediately think of are almost always about measuring output, when the most important thing to measure is generally outcomes. Let's measure how many e-Alerts we send out to our members, someone might say, and that will initially sound like a really good idea. The more e-Alerts we send, the more informed our members will be about our association's activities, right?

Not necessarily. Using the volume of e-Alerts to measure how informed your members are is a little like using the volume of water coming out of the hose to measure how many fires you've put out. You could be spraying a lot of water in a lot of different places, but if you're not hitting the source of the fires, you're not likely to have the effect you seek.

And why should we measure these wrong metrics anyway? Because of what I said a few weeks ago: tracking metrics isn't easy or free. There is value in developing the discipline and expertise that is needed to track metrics--any metrics--within your organization.

This leads, productively, I think, to an organization taking a "baby step" approach to identifying and tracking the right metrics. Start small. Start with something obvious and easy. But track it like it was the most important thing on the planet. Bring the information into every staff meeting, make decisions based on the information as it changes over time, and change the behavior of the people in your organization as a result.

That's really hard to do, but it is the process that is typically the best way to determine when your metrics are the wrong ones, and when it may be time to switch to something closer to the source of the fire.

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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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