Priorities - Measuring What Really Matters


Whether you run a growing business or a nonprofit agency, you measure something! You’re measuring cash flow and the status of the bank account as you prepare pay cheques. You’re measuring whether staff show up for work, complete their assigned tasks in a timely fashion, and how they work with colleagues and clients. But the bigger question is, “Are you measuring what really matters if you want to grow a successful business or organization?”

In my consulting work I encounter many well meaning executives and middle managers who want to excel at what they do. They want to grow their leadership skills and their organizations. Often their ideas of how to do that are vague with no clear plan in place. As such, they don’t focus their energies as much as they could on measuring what really matters (for them or others in the organization) if they’re going to realize their dream for success. Based on my interactions with these executives and leaders there are typically three areas which need ongoing attention if organizations are going to measure what really matters on the journey to success.


I’ve worked with a number of clients whose modus operandi was heavily tilted toward spontaneity - okay they were spontaneous! The organizational upside is they’re able to turn on a dime in response to opportunities or crises that came along. The downside is they can turn on a dime, turn on a dime, and turn on a dime .... I’m sure you get the picture! They’re either going in circles or heading in so many different directions there is no cohesive coordination of their collective efforts. Because they had not identified their organizational priorities, every opportunity (or crisis) was worth considering! If it turned out to be the flavor of choice of enough people in the organization, they went with it.

What if clients like this had taken the time to identify their top 4 or 5 annual organizational priorities based on their defined strategic direction? And then, what if they identified the one annual that was most critical for them to focus their collective energies on in the upcoming quarter? Do you think that might have been helpful in aligning organizational energy and propelling them more effectively on a trajectory toward success?

The Right Stuff

One of the challenges many clients face is determining which data is most important to measure and how best to measure that data. Based on my experience, if the organizational priorities haven’t been clearly identified, several things generally occur related to metrics. Either an organization measures everything or it measures nothing. Sometimes, organizations that demonstrate some concern about metrics and data then fail to seriously review the data they’re generating. None of these options are particularly helpful.

This is where it becomes really important to know what the “right stuff” is relative to data and metrics, and to then measure it well. The trap many organizations fall into is measuring the wrong stuff well and measuring the right stuff poorly, or not at all! Experience has shown that the road to success is more often travelled by organizations who at least measure the right things poorly than organizations who manage the wrong things well! If you have no clear, identified priorities then how do you decide what to say “yes” to? More importantly, how do you decide what to say “no” to? Sometimes they say “no” to really good opportunities so they can say “yes” to even better opportunities! The decision making timeline is condensed and the quality of decisions improves exponentially!

The Key to Better and Faster Decisions

There’s a third important factor that I encounter in working with clients. Employees who work in an organization where there are no clear, identified priorities are often left confused as to their role and where best to channel their energies. If I’m an employee in this kind of an organization, I have little sense of how my tasks and role fit in with the person next to me. I have little sense of how my performance helps us collectively reach a goal or move farther down the road to success. I’m probably more likely to ask, “Does anybody know where we’re going?” If I’m loyal, I keep my head down and do my job. If I want more out of my job than just getting a pay cheque, I’ll start to ask questions of those in management. The answer I get determines whether I stay with the organization or find another place where my skills can be maximized, my passion for organizational excellence ignited, and my dreams realized.

Great organizations have figured this out! They’ve identified their priorities, broken them down into smaller, manageable pieces. Everyone in great organizations know how and where they fit into the overall structure - they know which piece of the puzzle they are. They care about others on the team because the success of the team is dependent on each individual succeeding! The collective energy level is palpable - the air is electric! No organization has ever made the transition to enduring greatness without getting this aspect of organizational life right! There are many mediocre or average organizations who spend too much time turning on a dime, turning on a dime and turning a dime. Great organizations can still turn on a dime, but when they do so, they know why they’re doing it, how it fits with their priorities, and how it will help them be more successful.

Which scenario best fits you and your organization? Are you measuring what really matters on the journey to success?