Friday, May 1, 2009

Measures of Success - Roller Coaster

Recently my 3 year old rode a kids roller coaster at a zoo. When describing it he motioned with his hand the waves and the turns while saying, "And it went up, up, up and then swoosh," as his hand swings round and round.

When thinking about how to measure success it seems that there is often no simple trajectory. If you work for a large corporation you will have vast differences in the success level of departments and there is a huge averaging of the whole company. So one department might be failing miserably but another department is wildly successful. The end result is that the company is average. The problem here is that large problems can be hidden in measuring success. In smaller organizations the numbers are more difficult to hide and the impact on the overall picture is more pronounced. If you are looking at your individual life there are many areas that you can keep failure under wraps for a long period of time.

So how do we counteract this roller coaster? Let's face it. If the numbers are up everything is fine. People get their bonuses, the boss is happy and we tend to stop paying attention to signals and information coming in. If the numbers are down there is a great upheaval, there is the temptation to fudge the data, defensive postures are taken within the organization and all manner of other internal issues that compound the problems.

I think one of the reasons we have this roller coaster affect is the choices we make in what we measure (and maybe as important, what we don't measure), how we interpret what we measure and how we define success. If the measure of success for my children is becoming a professional sports player it won't be good for any of us. I can measure their height, speed, strength. And I will see that they just aren't going to measure up. That will affect how I interact with them because I have defined success for my children as being something that they never will become. This works in reverse as well. If I set my standards so low that I don't ask anything of my kids I will not be helping them to grow or shape the future that they could have.

How we define success and what we choose to measure (or don't measure) will play a huge role in how the ups and downs of the roller coaster play out in our organizations, in our families and in our individual lives.

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