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Metrics That Matter: How To Use Data To Guide Personal Growth + Fuel Performance

By January 17, 2018 No Comments

“What gets measured, gets improved.” -Peter Drucker

If you’ve spent any time in the south, then you’re familiar with Chick Fil-A.

The fast food chain, founded in a strip mall in Georgia in the late 1960s, is today world-famous for its fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.

It’s so popular that it’s common to see twenty or more cars in line at the drive thru at any given time.

One of the secrets to the success of the organization? A highly-competitive franchise owner selection process.

In fact, over 20,000 people apply to earn the right to open one of less than 100 new stores each year.

Why?

For an initial investment of just $10,000, an owner can expect to make $100,000+ each year.

In addition to the long odds, the application process demanding.

Candidates must complete multiple rounds of interviews, some lasting many hours, and the company will often interview family members to determine how well the candidate lives, and leads, his or her life.

According to founder and CEO Truett Cathy, this rigor is essential to their success: “If a [person] can’t manage their life, they can’t manage a business.”

In other words, you can’t be expected to successfully lead others, until you demonstrate the ability to effectively lead yourself.

Managing With Metrics

I once asked a group of senior leaders this question: Do you use metrics to manage your business?

Every hand in the room went up.

I followed up that question with another: Do you similarly use metrics to manage your life?

Most of the hands fell.

This surprised me.

Why would an otherwise intelligent person treat their personal life with less rigor and objectivity than they would treat their business?

To be fair, in business, measurement is easy.

There are a set of mutually agreed upon “success” metrics that most companies can track with little trouble: revenue, costs and profit, among others.

In business, metrics create accountability. They motivate us to do things that we otherwise might not: to work harder, smarter and more bravely than we would, otherwise.

Metrics both guide our decision-making and fuel our performance.

In life, as in business, the same thing holds true: metrics matter.

In life, as in business, the same thing holds true: metrics matter.

In life, however, determining which metrics to track can be more nuanced.

So many of the things we value (e.g. the quality of a relationship, ‘ability’ as a parent/friend/sibling, strength of a marriage, personal growth, etc.), are difficult to objectively measure.

But the fact that measurement is hard doesn’t mean that it’s worthless.

Instead, I’d argue just the opposite: the challenge of measurement in our personal lives makes it all the more essential.

If you fail, or abdicate the responsibility, to intentionally choose the standards by which you will hold yourself accountable, you are putting your long-term success and well-being at risk.

Metrics That Matter: My Personal Performance Indicators

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on both “what” to measure and “how” to measure it.

What I’ve come to realize is that the secret to identifying a useful metric is to start with the right question.

The secret to identifying a useful metric is to start with the right question.

Below, a list of questions that will help you to better objectively assess how you are performing today and where you want to invest future time and energy in getting better.

I’ve organized these questions and metrics across five categories:

  • Overall Performance
  • Growth
  • Money
  • Health
  • Relationships

This isn’t an exhaustive list of performance measures of course, but it’s a start.

As you review this list and begin to identify the metrics that you would like to track, keep these guiding principles in mind:

  1. They must be leading indicators needs. For example, if the fullness of your “Security” bucket has a lot to do with the fullness of your bank account, make sure you include financial performance data on your dashboard.
  2. Don’t get intimidated. Some people will avoid adding metrics to their dashboard that intimidate or overwhelm them (e.g. a large student loan, or credit card, debt). Don’t make that mistake. By adding these metrics to your dashboard, you are taking a huge step towards getting better. The awareness drives behavior change.
  3. Don’t over-complicate it.  The easier these metrics are for you to measure and track, the more likely it will be that you actually keep it up. Keep your initial dashboard relatively small with metrics that are as easy to track as possible.
  4. Don’t be too hard (or easy) on yourself. The value of this exercise is directly proportionate to your level of honesty, patience and self-compassion.

CATEGORY 1: OVERALL PERFORMANCE

These questions are reflect top-level performance. They are subjective but, if you measure these data frequently enough, they will provide useful trend data.

First, the high-level:

  • Overall: On a scale of 1-10, where 1 = “awful” and 10 = “the best ever,” how do you feel, today?

Next, I like to think in terms of the fundamental human needs (a simplified version of Abraham Maslowe’s “Hierarchy Of Need”):

  • Security: On a scale of 1-10 (10 = high) how “secure” / “confident ” / “in control” do I feel?
  • Connection: On a scale of 1-10, how deep is my sense of “connection” / “belonging”?
  • Significance: On a scale of 1-10, how much “significance” / “respect” / “self-worth” do I feel?
  • Growth: On a scale of 1-10, how much am I “growing” / “making progress” / “moving forward”? Alternatively, how “bored” do I feel? (the higher that number, the lower the “growth” score).

CATEGORY 2: MONEY

There may be no more insidious force holding us back from creating lives we love than a lack of personal financial awareness.

Too many otherwise intelligent people worry about money – and make poor choices as a result – without spending any time clarifying how much they have, how much they need, and why.

There may be no more insidious force holding us back from creating lives we love than a lack of personal financial awareness.

The good news is that financial security is among the easiest of the critical performance indicators to measure.

Here are a few metrics, and corresponding questions, that I track:

  1. Net Worth: What is your net worth today? How has that number changed since January of this year?
  2. Expenses: How much does your life cost today? What are your total monthly expenses? Is your life more expensive, or less expensive, than it was in January of this year?
  3. Savings: How much money did you put aside for retirement over the last six months? (Note: Include 401(k) contributions + any other employer deducted savings in this calculation)
  4. Giving: How charitable have you been? What percent of your pre-tax income did you give away since January? What do you want that number to be by the end of the year?
  5. Lifetime Savings Rate: How well have you saved/invested the money that you have made? This is calculated by adding up all of the money you’ve made in your life (e.g Net Worth / Total Lifetime Income). Total lifetime income is easily calculated using your data from the Social Security Administration website (ssa.gov).

Note: If you need some ideas on how to better set up your financial system to allow you to more easily answer these questions, download my free e-book: Regret-Free Personal Finance.

CATEGORY 3: GROWTH, KNOWLEDGE, SKILL

If you want to live a life that gets better with time, it will always be important to acquire new knowledge, skill and experience.

Unfortunately, this kind of personal growth often gets deprioritized (no time! no money! no time!).

These metrics can help you to keep track of the progress that you are making and time you are spending in pursuit of greater growth.

  1. Books: How many books did you read, or listen to, since January?
  2. Podcasts: How many non-news podcasts have listened to?
  3. Courses: How many courses, seminars or programs did you participate in since January?
  4. New Skills: How many new skills have you developed since January?
  5. Money Spent: How much money have you spent on personal development since January?
  6. Content Created: How much original content have you created and shared since January? (e.g. code developed, presentations delivered, trainings taught, memos / articles / blogs written, podcasts / videos produced, etc.)

Note: If you need suggestions for books, podcasts and other resources that can fuel your growth, check out the resources page on the Sands Leadership website.

CATEGORY 4: RELATIONSHIPS / NETWORKING

Much like building knowledge and/or skill, improving the size and quality of your network is a proven way to improve the quality of your life.

These questions will help you to better assess and reflect on your relationship progress to-date:

  1. Quality Relationships: How many “best” friends do you have? How many “deep” relationships? (Author Brene Brown calls them “Marble Jar” friends. I love that.)
  2. Relationship Trend: Have you become more connected, or less, with your friends and colleagues since January?
  3. New Relationships: How many new relationships, developed since January, have had the most meaningful positive impact on your life?

CATEGORY 5: ENERGY

I often refer to energy as the “lead domino.”

Anytime that you are not feeling physically 100%, it gets harder to be the person that you want to be and to make the progress that you want to make.

Like the first domino in a chain, your health is the factor that makes everything else possible.

Here are some metrics that you can track to help stay on top of your health:

  1. Overall Energy: Scale of 1-10 (where 10 = “as energized and excited as I can be”), how do I feel
  2. Sleep: How many hours of sleep are you getting, on average?
  3. Exercise: How many days/week do you break a sweat?
  4. Alcohol: How many drinks are you consuming per week? (Entrepreneur Matt Mullenweg likes to say that “drinking is stealing happiness from tomorrow.” I’ve found that quote to be useful in helping me to curb my own alcohol consumption.)
  5. Body Mass Index (BMI): This calculation uses your weight and height to estimate body fat and there are many free calculators online (I like this one from Mayo Clinic). It can be a useful benchmark for overall health.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of quality health-related questions, but I wanted to keep it simple.

Today there is an increasing number of ways to measure progress against your physical health goals (e.g. FitBit, iWatch, etc). Find the metrics, and form of measurement, that works for you.

Data = Courage

When my wife, Sarah, decided that she wanted to leave her career as a lobbyist in Washington, DC to pursue her dream of empowering female professionals through fitness, she was scared to death.

While she loved the idea of the work she would be doing, she was also terrified of the six-figure pay cut she was about to take.

On the fence about what to do, she used the principles described above to guide her decision making. Since running out of money was what she feared the most, she developed a metric to help her manage the fear: “# of months before financial pain.

In other words, this was a measure of how long could she live, without an income, and without changing her lifestyle, before she would run out of money.

She calculated this metric by dividing her “net worth” (total assets, including her 401k and a ROTH IRA) by her “average monthly cost of living.”

At the time, the math worked out to 26 months, or just over 2 years.

Sarah took a piece of printer paper and wrote a big “26” on it and put it on the refrigerator. Every month, for three months, she would do the math again and change the number on the fridge.

The action had a remarkable impact on her behavior. When problems with her new business emerged, and the fear started to creep in, I would point to the number on the fridge. It was my way of  saying “you’ve got this, we’ve got this; there’s time to solve this problem.”

Over time, this fear disappeared and her focus transitioned to the metrics that mattered for her growing small business.

And yet, she still keeps track of the metric.

To her, that number represents true financial security.

More importantly, it helps to ensure that, when things get hard with the business, and the fear creeps back in, she has some objective data to help her focus and get back to work on what matters most.

In her opinion, the greatest benefit of running her life like a business, of using data, is not just better decisions…it’s courage.


Bonus: List Of Metrics

SECURITY

  • Monthly expenses
  • Monthly savings
  • Personal cash flow
  • “Lifetime” savings rate
  • Net worth
  • Investment performance
  • Amount of debt
  • Time spent planning
  • Performance review score
  • # quality work relationships
  • Body weight
  • BMI
  • # alcoholic drinks
  • # avg. hours sleep
  • # times in bed before __PM
  • # of healthy meals
  • # of fast food meals
  • Time spent on social media*
  • Screen-free time
  • Time spent meditating
  • # coaching sessions
  • # yoga sessions
  • Time spent outdoors

CONNECTION

  • # lunch/coffee with colleague*
  • Quality coaching / feedback
  • Thank you notes written
  • # questions answered
  • # problems solved
  • # “date” nights
  • # “close” friendships
  • Quality time (“QT”) with family
  • QT with extended family
  • Time spent volunteering
  • QT with “old” friends

GROWTH

  • Time spent in ”deep” work*
  • Time spent coaching*
  • Continuing Education (“CE”) credits earned
  • # new courses/training
  • Completed business projects
  • Time spent networking
  • # books read*
  • # podcasts / audiobooks*
  • Time spent learning
  • Time spent reading / listening
  • # trips (overseas v. local)
  • Creative time
  • Time spent practicing (musical instrument, sport, etc.)

SIGNIFICANCE

  • # problems solved
  • # team members promoted
  • # new ideas
  • # workouts
  • # gifts given
  • # acts of kindness
  • Charitable giving
Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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