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Focus on the Real Objectives
6 September 2007, by , in Data Management, 3 comments

Recently my wife and I went out of town and left our four kids with a babysitter for the weekend. As an incentive to good behavior, my wife developed a little game where each kid could earn one or more marbles a day for good behavior, and could lose one or more marbles per day for bad behavior. At the end of the weekend, if they had 10 marbles (they started with five) they would get a prize.

Wwhen we returned on Monday from the long weekend, everyone had earned eight marbles, but not the ten that was the goal. No one had lost any marbles for bad behavior, but there hadn't been enough time to earn 10 marbles. My kids, of course, thought they were going to miss out on their prize. But my wife explained to them that the point was to have good behavior, not earn 10 marbles. Since they achieved what we sought, they got the prize they were promised.

Too often associations focus on metrics that aren't really meaningful. A great example of "counting the marbles" is page views on the web site. So many associations talk about how many times their website is viewed. But the real question is, what kind of change in behavior is occurring as result of those views? Are web visitors buying from you? Are they taking action with their congressman? Are they joining in the conversation in your association's discussion groups? Counting the marbles doesn't help us achieve our objective.

So ask yourself: Are you measuring the number of marbles, or are you measuring the behavior change?

About author:
  • Measuring performance–results–is usually always the best way of measuring success. Some people and organizations, however, prefer to measure other qualities, such as relationships and competencies. These may be important, but they don’t generally substitute for results.

    Behavior change is one type of result. I’m not sure associations are (properly) in the business of behaviour change, but I may not understand the intended meaning of the term in this context. I tend to think of the enduring purpose of associations as “good of the order”, and not personal benefits for individual members or customers.

    The challenge of measurement is identification of the relevant metric(s). So easy to say; so hard to do. Is the metric a leading or lagging indicator? A leading metric tends to influence and reflect behavior towards the desired performance–so choose very carefully or you may get unanticipated and wrong performance. A lagging metric tends to identify, after the fact, the level of success–so be patient, unitl after the activity is concluded.

    Sometimes the metric that seemed so obviously appropriate turns out to not be workable, in whole or part. Thus, choose metrics carefully and don’t be reluctant to change if needed. Seems to me this may be the case of the marble metric.

    In the case of the marbles, I would wonder about the precedent that was set, and what your children’s expectations may be for the next similar scenario. For example, will your children believe that you don’t really expect them to achieve 100% of the metric, and that it reasonable for them to expect to be fully rewarded if they only achieve 80% of the metric?

    Counting marbles is unimportant. What is important is that everyone share a common understanding of success and how it will be (consistently) measured, eh?

    An excellent post–thanks.

  • Wes Trochlil

    Thanks for the comment, Virgil. You’ve hit it on the head with this remark: “The challenge of measurement is identification of the relevant metric(s).” Too often we go for the easy ones (the marbles) instead of the less obvious one (the behavior change).

    As for my children, you’re right, they’ve probably already figured out that mom and dad will only hold them to 80%. (Wily bunch that they are!)

  • Wes, having covered this ground (not always successfully), I can reliably report:

    1. The Kid’s Manual says: Always push the margins.

    2. The Parent’s Manual says: Love your kids, more than anything forever.

    Sounds to me like everything is on track. Cheers, bud!

    Keep posting the good stuff.

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