Are You Measuring The Right Outcomes?

by Dr. Yvonne LaMar


How many minutes are in a year? My niece, Sarah, and her third grade classmates sang a song from the Broadway show, “Rent.” The song breaks down how many minutes are in a year and asks us how many ways we count a year. It’s catchy. I’ve been humming the song all day, but I don’t remember how many minutes it turned out to be.

Measuring is important. Figuring out what to measure is even more important. I just finished speaking about precise communication. I can’t imagine a more precise way to communicate than through exact quantities. How many times must something happen to know that it is successful? How much money must you earn to cover the cost of an endeavor? How much time is needed to determine when something is working or not working?

There is no key to answering those questions. Your comfort level will determine how much of a risk you want to take. It will also determine when you do your measurements. I developed a terrible habit a few years ago. I learned to do all of my banking and trading on the internet and I became obsessed with the movement of money. I put a lot of energy into trying to do the right things but all it did was cause anxiety. Some information is not meant for daily consumption.

Working with government agencies taught me to plan ahead for measurements. Daily feedback was fed into monthly reports which were then compiled into annual reports. Summaries were distributed and a major piece of the full story of our efforts was available for all to see. It wasn’t the whole story, but numbers can tell you a lot.

After an organization has finished their mission statement, the next question is “How will you know when you have achieved your goals?” I always suggest having some quantity in mind. How many calls did you answer? How many people did you serve? How much money did you make? The biggest mistake that an organization can make is having ideals with no ideas.

Statements like “We want to help educate our community” and “We want to help single mothers” are common. How will you help? What services will you offer? How often? To how many? Effectively serving people means that you have to be realistic about your capacity to serve. No one has unlimited physical resources, in fact, one of the best ways to measure your capacity is to look at your resources. Personally, I never count anything that I don’t have yet. You can always add things and expand, but its very difficult to recover when you have exhausted all of your resources.

The biggest complaint that I hear from churches that are growing is that the employees and volunteers are overworked. The church’s effort grew faster than expected or involved many tasks that no one anticipated. In my work with those churches, I find that the big picture of “helping humanity” blinds the decision makers to nurturing talent and reserving energy.

Beginning with the end in mind is crucial, no one should lose sight of the goals. Bringing someone like me in to break down tasks and insert evaluation tools is also important, but its not nearly as exciting. Yes, I can be a buzz killer, but someone has to keep in mind that you are in it for the long haul. Doing everything right now will not work when you don’t have everybody and everything you need.

Organizations need guidance to grow in a positive direction. We have all seen the rapid decline of very good ideas. There are ways to determine if you are on the right track before your growth is out of control. How you measure this year will be different than how you measure next year. New people and new resources will likely send you in directions that you cant even imagine right now. Patience and even a tiny commitment to precision can make a world of difference from the beginning.

I pulled out my calculator – 525, 600 minutes. That’s how many minutes are in a year. Now I know that I am humming the right tune.

Dr. LaMar researches, writes, and speaks about mentoring relationships among professional women. She also consults with growing businesses about how personality and processes can affect workplace dynamics. Her books "God Provides The Sacrifice: Women Discuss Making Their Hardest Decision" and "Drama Free Workplace" can be purchased in e-book format and paperback from her web sites or by calling 806-203-4094.

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