Measuring Success by Your Reflection

Most discussions I’ve been part of about measurements usually involve identifying a desired outcome and looking for a numeric representation of that outcome. This makes perfect sense and there’s loads of research and supporting evidence that having metrics and measurements are an important part of most outcome-based projects.

Over the years, however, I’ve come to believe that we overlook an important success indicator – maybe the most important success indicator to both organizations and to people who provide service: The success of others.

Too often, I find that an underlying focus of metric and measurements work is to prove the value of our own contributions. In other words, to tell the world “look what I did!” You can hear it in the semantics of the discussion: “How do we capture what we’re doing?” “How do we show the world what we’re doing?” “We’re doing more than we’re getting credit for.”

I guess there is a place for this kind of discussion & I’ve had it myself, so I won’t act like I’m any better. But what would happen if we measured our success in terms of our customer’s success? Think about it: if the mission of our organization is to provide some service or enable others to be successful, then isn’t the ultimate sign of success the fact that our customers (or colleagues; or staffs; or even those pain-in-the-butt, self-glorifying, know-it-all, overly-competitive, so-in-so’s) are doing better work because of something that we did?

Describing our success in terms of the success of others provides many advantages:

  1. It places the focus of our efforts in the right place. Instead of being competitive and operating as if “my success is more important than your success,” it declares through action that “my success is dependent upon your success.”
  2. It helps with balance. Sometimes, our best course of action is to step out of the way. When the core of our success is tightly coupled to the success of the people we’re meant to serve, then it becomes much easier to do whatever is necessary (including subordinating ourselves & giving up “the credit”) so that others may succeed.
  3. It adds some powerful tools to your toolbox. With some people, the mere mention of your drive towards some successful conclusion stimulates them to run hard at the finish line. They go into over-drive and actually perform much better than they would have if you weren’t there. When they cross that finish line before you do, they turn and smile – satisfied that they beat you there and relishing the glory of their “win.” Well… when their success was your real objective, it’s real easy to smile back and say “way to go!” I chuckle at how many time I’ve used this technique to achieve some end. Often, I never had any plan to do the thing they thought I was doing. My plan was to stimulate them to do it – and be good at it!
  4. It creates good will. Suddenly, you find yourself sincerely celebrating the success of others. When you do that from a genuine place, people begin to believe that you’re on their side – which, of course, you are.
  5. What goes around, comes around. Spend enough time thinking and working on making other people successful and eventually, someone is going to want to see you successful. We all rely on others for something. When people begin to realize that you’re a positive actor in your environment, they tend to want to see you succeed. Not because they think you’re great, but because your success isn’t about you – it’s about the success of someone or something else.
  6. It opens ears and improves the quality of our products and services. I’ve seen way too many times: people getting focused on cost, schedule and performance at the expense of the customer or their desired outcome. In effect, these people say “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” on some project or IT system deployment. “We’re going to deploy this thing on time and on schedule despite whatever those “users” say!” Meanwhile, we create chaos and crush the work efficiency of the very people we claim we’re serving.
  7. It creates excellent “press” for your public success story board. Everybody loves to read about their own success. Post things on your Web site about your customer’s success and I would bet my paycheck that interest and readership will go up.
  8. It covers some of the less measurable contributions by team members who are not directly tied to the traditional cost, schedule and performance. The communications team, for example, is often left out of metrics discussion because what they do is often “mushy” or “soft.” The fact is that the most perfectly executed development project is a complete failure if no one knows about it or uses it.

So here’s what I propose: keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing to identify metrics and craft good measurements. Then, add the secret ingredient we identified above. Find a way to add a measurement that is directly related to the success of your customers (or colleagues; or staffs; or even those p… you get the picture).

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