Why metrics matter to me

Performance metrics matter. We know this and yet we continue to track things that have little to do with our goals. The better alternative is to make sure that you're measuring progress against the things that matter most to you and your future. Here are four steps to think through that process.

I'm trying to move away from outputs-- such as number of contracts-- and focus more on outcomes. Did I create a connection with a client? Did a client come back after the project to ask more questions or start another task? Would we both want to work together again?

What do you track on a regular basis?

move right

When we win a new consulting job there is excitement and movement. The win justifies the research, writing, thought, and collaboration work invested. That’s exciting. The hunt is over and it paid off this time. 

There is also movement- a state of being our business model depends on.  Without much seasonality to the sales cycle, we need a reason for things to happen. Wins mean new project assignments and elevated responsibilities that are certainly good for the victors. The vacancies left create a trickle-down effect that is generally good for everyone else.

Without the swirl and churn of a periodic win, the business feels stagnant—even as billable hours flow and profits earned.

So we go in search of more wins. Because of the limits on discretionary spending and the finite nature of most budgets, we push beyond the clients serve today to find a client we’re not yet serving. In and of itself, this pursuit isn’t wrong but in practice it is distracting. 

Between wins, there is a better way to create movement. Instead of bouncing to the next RFP, we can dig in—really dig in—on the issue we were hired to solve. While fulfilling the client’s need, we can find the others working this issue (wherever they might be), start conversations, do the primary research, explore, talk to, test out, and refine the solutions. 

Every win should mean fulfilling the commitment to the client AND making a contribution to the community.


Planning to plan? Answer these 9 questions first

A client asked me this morning to review and comment on his organization’s strategic plan template.  A template?  Wait, what? After a bit of (polite) questioning, I learned that this client's organization director is asking several sub-units to draft strategic plans. Once completed, these plans will be rolled up into a master strategic plan.  

I wanted to respond with something helpful but the thoughts racing through my mind went something like... "You can’t template a strategic plan. I mean, sure, there are a handful of broad headers that you could type up but to what end?  Creating a template would exacerbate one of the biggest problems with our typical approaches to strategic planning. And that problem is more focus on the end document than the process of discovery, team building, creative thinking, and cross-discipline input.

Back to my client... he elaborated that he was looking for some thought-provoking questions to include in an annotated outline. The outline would be the basis of a strategic planning meeting agenda and would be during the session to facilitate discussion. Sigh.  Ok, that makes sense.  Based on his request, I jotted down some basic strategic planning guidelines and the kind of questions you should be asking of your team.

Bottom up planning is different and worth trying for organizations really needing or wanting buy-in. It’s not fast or neat or clean but you will get a pretty good sense of what gets people interested and excited about the mission.

Before doing “save as” and creating your spanking new strategic plan file, set some time parameters.  As arbitrary as they might seem, establishing short but reasonable boundaries around the effort is tremendously helpful to participants.  Without sideboards, strategic planning can and will go on forever and eventually be crushed under its own weight  So, I’d suggest that you set a deadline of about a week-- 2 max.  Seriously. You (meaning all the participants in your organization) really do not need more time. Simple and clear beats perfect and polished.



Ok, here you go...

Problem Statement

  1. What are two problems we're trying to solve?  (Sit back and enjoy the range of answers. Giving everyone 2 helps them focus and provides a little wiggle room)
  2. How do other comparable organizations describe the same or similar problem? (Include for a quick compare and contrast exercise.)

Current State and Desired End State

  1. Briefly describe where the organization stands today in the face of this problem.
  2. In an ideal world, where would you be and by when?  Answering this question can and will consume most of the discussion. You can only include this question if there is a pretty good sense of the options. If the problem is truly unsolved, additional research and exploration is needed. A good meeting but just one step back. Another thing... Personally, I recommend that you keep the goals modest and the timelines relatively near-term.  Multi-year strategic plans have very limited practical value.

Stakeholders and Customers

  1. Who or what is impacted by the problem? Try to name the biggies and cut people off before you get too far past 6-8.
  2. Within the organization, who owns the biggest pieces of trying to solve this? (Good list for pulling in future reviewers and collaborators)
  3. Who are you trying to please, support, engage, or help?  These are your customers (even if you’re not “selling” anything.) Spend most of the time you have talking about this group then take another pass through your decisions and tweak from the customer’s point of view.
  4. Besides you, who outside of the organization cares about this outcome?

Opportunities and Limitations

  1. What events can you reasonable anticipate in the set time frame that you want to take advantage of or avoid.  Keep it short and snappy.
  2. So what’s the path?
  3. Given all the thoughts above, provide some sense of the range of options considered.  Which path best takes advantage of all of the resources at your disposal? This is your strategic path.  Write this down—on paper if that’s easiest.

Evaluation Points

  1. What logical evaluation points along the path exist?  Mark these roughly on your calendar and commit to a quick (less than 1 meeting) evaluation of how you’re doing.

Have fun with it.  To me, one of the most commonly missed opportunities with strategic planning is that we all take it too seriously and limit input to only the coolest kids in the office.  Lame.  Instead, even the most modest effort to make it interesting, take some guesses, accept some risk, and integrate as many viewpoints as possible will make this different from the last time.

Oh and encourage participants/contributors not to get too hung up on the language and meaning of strategic.  I’d say that a plan is strategic if it reflects multiple viewpoints and illuminates a path forward-- given the best information available at the time.  A project plan would follow and describe the step-by-step once this approach is finalized.

the facilities frontier

I've had the good fortune to consult on federal facilities programs for the last 12+ years.  No, seriously. The issues around managing our buildings and road and utility infrastructure is important, interesting work. It's real, it's tangible, and the people devoted to these programs are some of the most smart, earnest, passionate, and hardworking federal employees that you'll ever meet.

But the biggest challenges facing facilities aren't facilities problems at all.

Managers and engineers have the facilities best practices nailed through the concept of proactive, life-cycle asset management. The work is done. It's written down. The measures are in place. What's left to do is to hack away at building buy-in and coping with the massive, growing mountain of data. These are known problems with knowable solutions. Not easy problems to be sure but fixable.

Instead, I see three big challenges on the horizon for facilities that are unrelated to the construction, operations, and maintenance of the asset itself.


  1. Funding and financing.  Figuring out how to pay for desperately needed repairs and new construction is in no way figured out. This is true for everyone and most of all, the feds. Creative solutions used by the private sector and state/local governments provide some hints but for the most part federal program managers lack the authority and support to tap into alternative funding and financing sources. So, for the time being, most fixes depend on federal appropriations which is not likely a sustainable, long-term solution.
  2. Leapfrogging technologies. We celebrate innovative technology advances in consumer products and services every day. Yet we focus less on areas of real need in fixing our infrastructure. Engineering innovation could help overcome the limited options facilities managers have today to fix really big problems. When you think of leapfrog technologies think of cell phones in the developing world. 20 years ago, leaders in Africa were stumped on how to come up with billions to build out the telecommunications infrastructure needed to connect people. Then, pop! Cell phone technology advanced, costs went way down, and now nearly every community-- no matter how poor-- has at least one person with a phone.  The technology negated the need for a big infrastructure build out. Amazing. The same phenomenon is possible for other big facility and infrastructure issues. I'm personally hoping for self-driving (and eventually flying) cars.
  3. Professionalization. Okay, a big, fussy made up word for an issue that isn't made up at all. Facilities folks are awesome in many ways. However, they've historically been excluded (or just skipped over) from participating in C-suite level leadership discussions and decisions. This is a huge missed opportunity because facilities leaders are responsible for what is often the single greatest budget line-item (and value generator) behind labor and personnel costs. Facilities managers are getting better at making their case for inclusion but there is still a ways to go. All facilities organizations would benefit from elevating and professionalizing their interactions with their leadership and other division chiefs.

I'm still interested in the nuts and bolts of asset management and the incremental improvements that can come from thorough, thoughtful implementation. However, for those looking to make a bigger impact on the future of facilities, the frontier is funding/financing, leapfrog engineering solutions, and professionalization. There is lots more discovery to be done.

high impact organizations at CBODN today!

Kid prep, run, meet with a client, get to the conference, present, and then we’re off to Gettysburg for the weekend with the entire family for dinner, nostalgia, and mini-horses. There is a lot going on today but I am so excited to hear the others, then speak at the Chesapeake Bay Organizational Development Network (CBODN) conference today!  

Here’s the gist of the message. The slides will be up on Slideshare later today.

High-impact organizations—what are they and how to we get there?

We all want impact. We want to do work we think is important and make progress. Too often, we’re held back by missed opportunities to connect with our leadership and get buy-in because we’re using our language, not theirs.

When I start working with new clients I often hear them say, “We’ve told them (their leadership) this before but they just don’t get it.”  Sometimes that is true but I’ve found a lot of times that our bosses understand the numbers but they’re not seeing the connection with the bigger picture—something they care deeply about.  And I believe that it’s our job—not theirs—to make that connection.

How might you do this?  Well, to start… 

  1. Inventory your current ideas, key proposals, objectives, goals or whatever you call the stuff you would really like to see done.  
  2. Then, document the top issues for you organization—coming from a recent speech or memo or your agency’s strategic plan.  It’s important here to pull from materials and use the language that will seem most familiar to them.
  3. Complete a mapping exercise.  Look ideas that can either be renamed or pitched slightly differently to better demonstrate the issue.
  4. Lastly, sit down and plan a series of conversations with the right staff—heads of each line of business or other senior staff to build a broader base of support.

With revamped messages and a calendar loaded with a handful of strategic meetings, you can begin demonstrating a connection with the broader mission.