Shaving Blind–How Do You Measure Progress?

I was shaving blind the other day in a hotel room after forgetting to replenish my travel-size shaving cream. I made do with some hair conditioner, which has the appropriate friction coefficient, but because it is virtually colorless, you can’t see which parts of your face you have shaved and which you have missed, you can’t track your progress.

This lesson came back to me later that day. I was on a trip to a prospective client who wanted help crafting strategy and better articulating objectives. The CEO had a great deal of passion for the business, his customers and his employees, but his measures of success were ethereal, more about feel than metrics. If he heard good stories from his workers on the front line and his customers, he was happy. If he heard bad ones, he was upset.

Not so his senior managers! They had no idea whether they were winning or losing because they were no longer sure of which metrics mattered. Managing by anecdote is interesting but not a good way to align behavior in a consistent fashion. Worse yet, throwing away the existing metrics without replacing them with new ones creates absolute chaos.

As a leader, the question is not so much do you know where you want to go, but rather, does everyone else know where you want to go? You might think that you are crystal-clear on your vision and strategy, but like the tree falling in the forest, who cares?

I admire leaders who have success metrics that are long-term focused and not just financial. If you are passionate about solving your customers’ problems and use this as a strategic differentiator, then you better have a way to identify how well you are doing this. You might be able to manage some things without a number, but it’s darn hard!

It’s not enough, however, to look in the rear-view mirror. You need to use that data to course-correct, but you also need to have some targets identified for your team to shoot for. If you have a performance-oriented team and don’t help them figure out what a win will look like, they will soon get demoralized and leave, or worse yet, get demoralized and stay!

Leadership roles come with obligations. Tracking your progress is one; creating a compelling and clear vision is another.

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