The One Metric I Actually Track

Plane wingI spent much of my late 20s at Bain & Company jumping on 6am Monday morning flights from LGA to Cleveland and arriving home on a Thursday night.  I knew I wanted something to change but could not figure out what to do.  One evening I went to speech given by Tom Tierney, the co-founder of The Bridgespan Group and he shared something that struck me.  He was talking about goal setting and the importance of measuring what you manage.  In passing he said that he tracked the number of nights that he spent away from his wife.  This intrigued me so I asked my assistant to figure out how many nights I had spent travelling in the previous year.  I was shocked to discover it was more than double what I had estimated.  I resolved to do something differently.  If you think that this sounds like a half-baked plan at best you would be right. 

Most of us will fail to keep our New Year’s Resolutions.  We want to be fitter, lighter, richer, more loved & loving, happier and less stressed.  We set goals.  We try.  And we mostly fail.  It’s groundhog year.  And here is why: the more we try to do, the less we accomplish.   While we intuitively know this, we live our lives and run our businesses as if we can ignore it.  There is an abundance of good ideas to say yes to, initiatives to kick-off, and task forces to launch.  Think about the last few initiatives your company was asked to get behind.  Did they blow up dramatically or slowly falter?  It’s nearly always the latter – a quiet death often never formerly acknowledged by the powers that be. 

Over the last few years there has been a growing movement focused on a new way to set goals and drive change in an organization called 4DX.  Heard of it?  I hadn’t.  Then 18 months ago my wife mentioned she had been given a book (4DX – the Four Disciplines of Execution) that was practically compulsory reading at American Express.  It forces an organization to focus on a single WIG (Wildly Important Goal – think BHAG if that’s in your jargon vocabulary).  Then you need to act on the “lead measures” (i.e. progress of what is done) rather than “lag measures” (i.e. results of what has been done), keep a “compelling” scoreboard (i.e. one that simply cannot be ignored), and create a “cadence” of accountability (i.e. a weekly meeting to track commitments and plan the next most important action).  So far so good.  At ghSMART we get clients to create scorecards that highlight the most important priorities for an individual, team, or organization.  Philosophically we are aligned.

I have heard from my clients that they find the system incredible simple and powerful for two reasons.  First, focusing on the leading indicators (vs. lagging outcomes) provokes important discussion about what those indicators are.  For sales folks should it be the number of meetings in the calendar with prospective clients?  Should it be the number of proposals written?  Should it be the expected value of the customer pipeline?  Getting the right leading indicator is both critical and nuanced.  One top tip is that the indicator has to be something that the individual feel 80% in control of influencing.  Second, clients report huge value in having the weekly cadence of meetings where people report in on their commitments and progress.  Weekly cadence beats monthly report outs.

I was intrigued so myself, Randy Street and a few other colleagues at ghSMART formed a pod and applied the 4DX principles to increasing Business Development for the firm.  We hopped on weekly 20 minute calls to review our progress.  Randy led the call, my colleague Josh tracked our commitments & progress.  The day before the call I felt pressure to stop procrastinating and get my weekly commitment done.  To say that is was successful is an understatement.  In fact we generated so much business for the firm that we had to shut down the experiment to deal with all the demand.

For me, the lessons are as much personal as they are professional.  Every year since 2006 I have tracked the nights away from my wife, Christine.  Every time I was called away on client or firm business I began asking myself, “Do I really need to be doing this?”  I started trying to conduct more video conference calls or make a four trip only involve two nights away.  In Myers-Briggs I am a P and loathe tracking this stuff so I innovated – I asked my assistant to track it for me and email the results to my wife once a year.  Here is where I stand vs. my target of 6 nights away per month.

 Nights away