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Managing and Metrics (with a Tiger Analogy)

If you are a manager and you are freaking out right now because you can’t see what your working-from-home team is doing, it may have nothing to with remote workers and everything to do with how you manage performance data. The current anxiety is the overdue result of two critical failures relating to performance data management:

  1. Failure to focus on the right metrics
  2. Failure to influence behavior through the right metrics

I say the anxiety is “overdue” because these failures are not new. These problems have always existed, the current environment simply made them painfully obvious and impossible to ignore. It’s about time.

For too long managers have narrowly focused upon outcome-based metrics at the expense of activities. The WFH environment has made it clear that measuring only outcomes provides precious little data to evaluate current performance. 

The practice of waiting an agonizing 30 days for the sales reports has to change. This data vacuum is normally hidden under a layer of superficial “over-the-shoulder” management that makes managers feel like they are properly managing performance (because they can physically see their teams “at work”). Most importantly, an outcome-based approach makes managers performance analysts who interpret results rather than performance coaches who influence results.

This begs the questions – how can we correct these failures?  These problems can be rectified through four steps:

  1. Know your leading from your lagging metrics
  2. Pick the right metrics
  3. Influencing Data Driven Decisions
  4. Displaying the data – in real time

Leading vs Lagging Metrics

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics used to evaluate whether a business is healthy and making progress towards its objectives. The business world tends to focus upon outcomes, outcomes are how we measure success after all. But this is where many businesses miss the mark. They focus primarily upon outcome based KPIs, rather than the activities that generate the outcomes. In an insurance organization the outcomes, also known as lagging indicators (Lag), typically include sales volume, policies sold, client retention, etc. They are wonderful for analysis, but they are the result of other preceding activities that make them possible.

These preceding activities, also known as leading indicators (Lead), are actionable metrics that result in lagging indicators (quotes result in sales). Examples of the activities include phone calls, client visits, and quotes given among others. The “key” in choosing KPI’s is to ensure that you focus upon both results and the activities that will lead to those results. 

Pick the Right Metrics

Things to consider when tracking and determining KPIs:

  • Include both leading and lagging indicators – what activities lead to desired outcomes?
  • All lagging indicator KPIs must have at least one leading indicator KPI (otherwise, how do you influence it?)
  • Leading indicator KPIs should have a direct influence on the lagging indicator KPIs
  • A lagging indicator can also be a leading indicator 
    • Calls (Lead) result in Quotes (Lag)
    • Quotes (Lead) result in Sales (Lag) 
  • Set goals for both leading and lagging indicator KPIs

Understanding how data drives decisions is quite helpful in determining the “right” KPIs. 

Influencing Data Driven Decisions (Data, Decisions, Actions)

Even the most perfectly chosen KPIs will have little influence on your team if your team doesn’t know they exist. Imagine that you are sitting in a park and you see a tiger emerge from the bushes (I told you there’d be a tiger involved). This data, the presence of a tiger, will cause you to immediately decide whether to A) sit and risk it or B) dash out of the park as quickly as your quarantine-enfeebled legs will carry you. Now imagine it’s an invisible tiger. No data, do decision, no action, no tomorrow. Invisible data is like an invisible tiger – incredibly significant yet utterly ineffective in producing action. 

Data doesn’t need to be threatening to influence behavior, it simply needs to be relevant. Whether it communicates progress towards a goal, a comparison with peers, or the opportunity to earn extra commission, visibility to the data causes a person to ask, “am I OK with this?” If not, they will take action to influence the data?

Displaying the Data

To effectively display data that will drive the decisions to take performance-improving actions consider the following:

  • The KPI data must be displayed in real-time
  • Display goals for both leading and lagging indicators
  • Illustrate the relationship between leading and lagging indicators (3 quotes result in 1 sale etc.)
  • Display individual progress against all KPI goals 
  • Display relative KPI performance data such as:
    • How an individual compares to their peers on a metric-by-metric basis
    • How they compare to their own historic performance metric-by-metric
    • Trends and projections 
  • Indicate what is remaining for them to hit a KPI. Don’t make them do math. If they are at 20 sales and their goal is 30, specify they need to sell 20 more
  • Use visualizations rather than numbers. Once again, don’t make them do math. A picture is worth 1,000 numbers and is more compelling than numbers alone
  • Display “Left on the Table” commissions that are available to sales reps within their comp plan
  • Display what is necessary to achieve Left on the Table commissions. Point them in the right direction to maximize their earnings with specific instructions (sell 2 more of product X etc.)
  • The KPI data must be displayed in real-time(Yes, it’s in here twice, that must mean something)

Each of the above represents a way to use data to drive decisions and get better results from your team. 

Summary

Measuring the right metrics and delivering the data to drive decisions is a game-changer whether at the office or in a work-from-home environment. Managers are better equipped to coach their teams and influence results rather than simply analyzing reports and hoping for better results next month. Reps have access to the decision-making data that enables them to take rapid action and immediately impact their earnings.  The discovery of the performance data vacuum has created a great deal of discomfort in our industry, but it also presents an incredible opportunity for companies to refine their KPIs and use the data to drive actionable decisions that will move their entire organization forward.


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