Are you still running your team by whatever one-size-fits-all metrics you were handed? Instead, develop a small set of metrics that matter — early indicators of changes in market conditions and performance. 

If your car’s speedometer displayed temperature rather than speed, combined your speed with those of nearby cars, or gave just your average speed, would you just “go with your gut?” Then say, “But Officer, it felt about right, and my broken speedometer said I was doing fine!”

You can’t drive well with a lousy dashboard, and you can’t lead well with lousy numbers, either. Rather than relying on or complaining about your company’s insufficient reports, make your own metrics.

Having facilitated top teams and business group leaders in creating dashboards for multi-billion dollar companies and fast-growing start-ups, I’ve learned to start with the right questions, rather than reach for whatever data is handy. The key questions are always, “What will give us early warning as to how we’re doing?” and “What will show us the key factors driving performance up or down?”

Here’s what to look for in choosing measures:

  • Select leading rather than lagging indicators, as much as possible (How many customers clicked on the service contract page and the percentage that bought a contract, rather than service contract revenue).
  • Pull from data you can find or reasonably estimate each period, e.g. monthly.
  • Make sure you can learn the precise origins of the data and understand their weaknesses Look to a variety of sources, incorporating market as well as company data.
  • Create new data streams when needed. Tally something at the front lines. Negotiate with an upstream unit for earlier data.
  • Ask for lots of input on potential metrics, especially about data quality, ease of pulling data, interpretations, and credibility.
  • Choose metrics that are especially credible to your team and will also help you communicate with executives and cross-functional partners.

Above all, keep it simple! Develop the shortest set of metrics that give you an early view of team performance. Join SMEI for a webinar and learn how to Accelerate Your Leadership Performance from Acceptable to Awesome on May 8, 2014.

Learn more about author Pam Fox Rollin.