Once the fear of measuring what matters subsides, the task turns to capturing the right elements. Measuring what matters is more than reporting.
There are three essential elements to capture for any measurement effort:
- reporting – with a caveat
Exploring and understanding the role of each of these three elements before working through the steps of measuring what matters improves the overall process, regardless of the topic.
The baseline captures the starting point. This is the beginning of the trend. Changes are compared to the baseline.
Capturing the right information requires a blend of qualitative and quantitative measures. The qualitative elements form the story and provide the context so the evidence and quantitative measures make sense. The blend ensures meaningful work.
For example, when measuring weight loss, some people just step on a scale. While not comprehensive (and the scorn of some health advocates), it’s a starting point. For a more complete baseline:
- Record key measurements at different points of the body: to show where the body is changing
- Take pictures: embarrassing as it feels when you’re the subject, comparing the before and after feels fantastic and reinforces the effort
- Keep a journal: of feelings, mood, weather, special events, stress, and even self-image; mapped to the day, this helps with later analysis of the trend(s)
Fitness and weight loss are billion dollar industries with a lot of smart minds focused on how to measure what matters. With a common goal of changing behaviors, there are many parallel lessons to learn from.
Capturing the right baseline is often hard. When faced with trying to measuring human behavior, communication and other more complex tasks, the key is to capture something and improve later.
Operational measurements are the workhorse of improvement. At minimum, this is a periodic/regular capture of changes. Ideally, the measurements record what is working in addition to areas that need improvement.
To make the operational metrics more effective, ask “why?” Ask it frequently. Persist on exploring the answer until you are either satisfied or run out of time. Hopefully you have enough time.
This gathers additional evidence and insight. It leads to better measurement and a stronger narrative that helps to make the findings make sense.
In smaller groups, this is often accomplished with a conversation. In larger populations, consider the use of open-ended surveys, interviews, and selected conversations to capture the story. The key is to measure anything and everything that allows for better decision making and improvement of the program to drive to established outcomes.
When it comes to losing weight, this is where available tools really shine. They allow people to quickly record what they ate, how much exercise, their weight (and measurements), and include a journal. The same options discussed in the baseline. As the trend builds, it allows people to quickly see visual evidence of their work. More, they can drill down to specific dates or points on the trend and review the information around it to get a clear understanding of what it means.
When people see progress on their goals with the ability to attribute it to specific actions, they engage in more of those actions. Same usually holds for changing the behaviors preventing the results they seek.
When asked about measuring what matters, most people want to immediately focus on what they can present so others understand. Lately, it’s a lot of focus on dashboards and other visuals.
In most situations, the unspoken goal is to show the decisions and investments are paying off. Sometimes that is important. But it begs the question of what matters to the audience
The caveat here is that different audiences require different measurements and reporting styles. As with value and communication, one size rarely fits all.
The measurements necessary to accurately assess and guide the team are usually different than what needs to be presented to executives, stakeholders and other decision makers.
In both cases, the reporting needs to be more than a picture or a number to be useful. It needs to include the context and other elements to ensure proper interpretation and, if necessary, guide the right actions.
Consider how this works for individuals tracking their weight loss. When someone comments, “wow, you look like you’re losing weight,” the common response is to smile and explain how they’ve lost 15 pounds or had to buy new, smaller, clothing.
When a fitness coach asks for the details, they want the trend and the details that allow them to consider the correlation between diet, activity, and other factors. That allows them to gauge progress and tailor guidance.
The trend is the key
A single measurement is of limited value. Usually it’s not worth much at all.
The key is the trend. Useful trend information is built by taking the time to consider and grab the right elements at the baseline. Then regularly checking the operational measurements to make sure the information is useful and guiding decisions.
More than the trend, the story that supports it is the hallmark of measuring what matters.
By providing the context and explaining why the trend is, what is working, what should be tested, and what needs to change helps make the entire program make sense.
Understanding these three elements sets the stage to build an effective program and truly measure what matters.