Metrics that Matter: Eliminating “Anti-Metrics” That Disrupt Organizational Performance

Information and metrics are critical factors for ensuring organizations are properly aligned with strategies. Solid performance indicators – metrics that matter – provide useful information that helps leaders make the best decisions to align their business model with organizational priorities.

However, not all metrics are created equal.  Many organizations attempt to measure everything they could possibly count. Useful metrics allow us to measure how organizational performance supports progress towards strategic goals.  However, metrics sometimes fail to align with the strategies organizations are pursuing, or with the behaviors that alignment officers want to encourage. I like to think of these factors as “anti-metrics”: measurements that actually conflict with the objectives the organization wants to accomplish and the strategy it is working to implement.

There are two broad categories of anti-metrics, each with their own specific impacts on an organization’s effectiveness. Wasteful anti-metrics provide tons of data without revealing any truly actionable information, while harmful metrics can create behaviors and outcomes that conflict with strategic goals and objectives.  

Here are several ways to identify anti-metrics within your organization and suggestions for how to address them.

Wasteful Anti-Metrics

In our app, 66 Organizational Alignment Tips for Executives to Accelerate Profit and Growth, we suggest leaders measure the “critical few” metrics that matter most.  “Organizations are often trained to measure everything,” we note. “Focus on the few key measurements that drive leader and employee behaviors aligned to your organization’s strategy and culture.”

Organizations of all sizes produce a flurry of numbers, charts, and trend analyses, and the volume of information grows larger each year. The process of gathering all this data, organizing it, and creating measurements can consume considerable resources. When the process produces metrics that help guide us towards organizational alignment, the effort is well worth its investment. But when those metrics do not related directly to our strategy, or they fail to drive people towards the behaviors we desire, these anti-metrics can become a wasteful distraction.

Think of watching a football game on television where the commentators have hours to fill during the broadcast. They may start discussing how many tackles a player made when he was a rookie eight years ago, or compare two teams’ head-to-head records since they entered the league in the 1930s. You might find that sort of trivia interesting, but is it really relevant to what’s happening on the field today? That’s how wasteful anti-metrics work: they provide data that doesn’t really help you move forward. They’re not discouraging me from reaching my objective, but they also do not push me towards my goal. Their background noise may also cause you to overlook more important metrics or performance indicators that would point you in the right direction.

Harmful Anti-Metrics

While wasted anti-metrics are inefficient and possibly distracting, harmful anti-metrics actually interfere with our ability to align our organization with our strategy and desired behaviors.  These metrics can actively impede progress towards our goals.

Several years ago, a company upgraded their call center to add a predictive dialer system. These systems generate outgoing calls for agents, reducing their downtime and increasing productivity. The system did succeed in meeting its immediate goal of improving productivity. However, it had an unintended consequence: customer satisfaction and call resolution metrics dropped. When managers monitored the calls, they found that when the customer came on the line, the agent would immediately put them on hold. Now, instead of having built-in gaps between the calls, agents were creating their own breathing room – and doing it with the customer on a line. As a result, productivity metrics improved at the expense of customer satisfaction ratings.  This created a harmful anti-metric that impacted important customer experience ratings.

This example also illustrates that anti-metrics can be situational. What works in one scenario for one organization may be counter-productive for another organization. For the company above, leveraging the opportunity to interact positively with their customers was more critical than the productivity gains they achieved. At another organization, their strategy may prioritize being a low-cost provider over other objectives, so they would have no problem with achieving savings by providing lower levels of customer service.

Eliminating Anti-Metrics in Favor of Metrics that Matter

The first step to address anti-metrics is simply recognizing that they exist in most organizations. Whether you are a high-level executive or a front-line manager, pay attention to the facts and figures you receive on a regular basis. Which measurements might actually distract your organization from its goals? What metrics fail to provide useful information for effective decision-making to support your strategies and encourage desired behaviors?

Also consider which metrics might be causing confusion for your staff. For example, the organizational strategy might emphasize customer experience, yet annual reviews hold call agents accountable for completing calls quickly. Which one is the real priority? 

Once leaders recognize anti-metrics in their organizations, they should determine how to eliminate them. When you see wasteful metrics, simplify reporting mechanisms and dashboards and modify distribution patterns of such metrics. For harmful metrics, examine the unintended consequences of each metrics and determine if the deleterious impact is such that the metric should be removed or deemphasized.  Sometimes an anti-metric for a front-line worker is an important management performance indicator.  Keep in mind that the key to effective measurement is creating the connection between strategy and desired behaviors

Information and metrics are one of the six sides of the organizational Cube Model outlined in our book, Mastering the Cube. Organizations achieve better outcomes when all sides of the cube are aligned. Focusing only on metrics that matter and eliminating harmful and wasteful anti-metrics improves the efficiency of the metrics side of the cube while eliminating roadblocks towards reaching your strategic objectives.