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Metrics for Success – Why do we get them wrong?

Metrics for Success – Why do we get them wrong?
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Welcome to our conversation about leadership—we want to help those who desire to become impactful leaders that make a difference in others’ lives. This week, we consider the cautionary tale of the 1986 Challenger disaster.

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For businesses to thrive sustainably, they must make contributions more valuable than the perceived cost. Team members closest to the clients/patients/customers know what is valued by the purchaser, and they can see and feel how best to fulfill the purchase.

Measuring client satisfaction at transaction time is difficult. Sure, we can do after-the-fact satisfaction surveys, but how can we better understand the right thing to do at the time?

We find metrics are easy to use in measuring comparative things “after the event” like net revenue, delivery time, percent scrap, etc. The further away people get from the front-line event, what they know best is the numbers, not how the metrics influenced the front-line delivery. Listen to CEOs and the talk is about earnings and factors that impact profits.

In her Wall Street Journal article “The Man Who Tried to Stop the Challenger’s Launch,” Rachel M. McLeary described the devastating impact of the decisions of the leadership team, removed from the front line and too focused on metrics, and not on service.

McLeary reported that the engineers most knowledgeable about the Space Shuttle Challenger argued that the record-low temperature on that fateful launch day in 1986 was too cold for the O-rings to seal during lift off. They failed to sway the leadership team, who excluded them from a meeting where the go-or-no-go decision was being made. Frustrated with the time-consuming three previous delays, the executives decided to launch, resulting in the tragic deaths of seven men and women—six of our best astronauts and a schoolteacher who was part of the NASA Teacher in Space Project—and tarnishing the efficacy of the Challenger program.

To make matters worse, one of the dissenting engineers was ostracized by his company for arguing that the launch be rescheduled. He soon quit working as an engineer.

How can we identify metrics that help leaders make better decisions with front line sensitivity? Front line workers are challenged with delivering a desired customer product and yet are measured on the organization’s benefit. This has been a timeless issue that has only gotten worse with the outsized bonuses for leadership’s ability to impact the bottom line.

How can we bring front-line conscience to the metrics?

What are your thoughts?