You Can’t Improve What you Don’t Measure

The old adage “Measure twice and cut once” is practical advice for everyone, especially carpet layers, tailors, and carpenters.

My lesson today is on measurements; however, it’s about a different kind of measurement. It’s about the importance of measuring your performance.

Dr. H. James Harrington has been involved in quality and performance improvement projects since the 1950s. He summarizes well what this lesson is all about.  “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

Who Measures?

It’s not a stretch to say that any team, organization, or person who wishes to perform better or accomplish more has meaningful points of measurement.

To clarify my point, consider if:

  • Baseball players never knew their batting average
  • Advertisers did not measure the number of people who responded to an ad
  • Golfers did not keep track of their scores
  • Online shopping sites did not track the conversion rate of website visitors to customers
  • Students never knew the results of their tests
  • Customer service centers did not measure how long customers were on hold
  • Companies did not measure their sales

If they didn’t measure their performance, how would they know if they improved?

Why Measure?

Quite simply, what gets measured gets done. Think about it. The very nature of knowing that something is being monitored causes us to work harder and perform better. There’s actually proof of this—it’s called the Hawthorne Effect.

Coined in 1955 by Henry Landsberger, the Hawthorne Effect describes a form of reactivity on the part of people whereby they improve an aspect of behavior being measured simply in response to the fact that the measurement is taking place! Amazing, isn’t it!

When you measure your own performance, positive things happen:

  • You are able to set goals and evaluate your progress.
  • You always know exactly where you stand.
  • You can identify key aspects you want to refine.
  • You are able to see the results of your refinements.
  • You can quickly and accurately trouble shoot your problems

I can tell you firsthand how absolutely critical it was to my success that I measured my results. Throughout my sales career, I measured things such as the number of calls I made, the number of calls that were answered, the number of appointments I set, the number of appointments that resulted in new clients, as well as the size of each sale. I measured everything I did in the entire sales process.

Doing so not only showed me how I was doing, it brought attention to the key elements of my performance and motivated me to strive harder to improve in each area.

Measuring and Improving

In order to develop or improve any area of your life, you need to do three things:

1.  You need to know your starting point. This is often referred to as your benchmark or baseline—the point from which all progress is measured.  If you wanted to lose weight, this would include your current weight and all your key body measurements.

2.  You need a goal. In the words of noted psychologist Arnold Glasgow, “In life, as in football, you won’t go far unless you know where the goalposts are.” Without a clear idea of where you are headed and what you wish to accomplish, how will you know if you ever get there?

3.  You need to determine how you are going to measure your progress. If you wanted to reduce your spending and save money, it would be wise to carry a small notepad and write down everything thing you buy and the price you paid.

Develop an Action Plan

Whether in business, sports, school, or any area of life, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. When you track and measure your results each month, you will have new benchmarks that you can strive to improve upon the next month. If you focus on improving your results month after month, you will begin to see amazing changes take place in your performance and results.

Ready to get started?

1.  Identify the parts of your life that you want to improve.  Don’t blow off this simple assignment. This is a critical component to your success. Make a list of the things you want to improve.

2.  Document your starting point. If you want to increase your net worth, then subtract your liabilities from your assets and determine your starting point.

3.  Set your goals.  If you want to double your sales over the next 12 months, right down your target.

4.  Determine the key factors that will influence your success.  What are the activities that if done correctly will help you achieve your goals?  These are the things you will measure.

5.  Create a means of measuring your actions and your results. What will you use to document these results?

Remember: You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

As you measure your actions and results, continue to look for ways to make refinements.  This is all part of the process of striving for excellence to be the best at what you do!

When you begin to measure what you do and how well you do it, you will begin to see the refinements you can make.  As you strive to make small improvements day after day and week after week, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals.

About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s daily lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #27 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)

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Becoming the Best at What You Do

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Think Like an Entrepreneur

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  • Hello Todd,
    This is a lesson hard to measure uP to. It requires listing your goals and improvements needed to achieve them. A proper system and the dedicated constant follow through of it is very demanding.

    I’m a detail oriented person. I can’t stand inaccurate units of measurement like in recipes that call for a pinch, dash or dollop. The results of doing this lesson properly are well worth the efforts required.

    “To measure uP keep tracking your times, your dates, your hits, your misses, your shots, your goals, and you will win the game of your life” – K.J. Kilroy Was Here!

    Tracking Actions For Results,
    Kevin J. Kilroy

  • Kevin- Love your humor. Did you say some people don't like it? Are they unhappy people?

    Like you said tracking your results does take time and effort, but as you know, it is some of the best time and effort we can put into anything.

    Thanks for your contribution.


  • Great to stop by another day and benefit from the wisdom you are willing to share with us.
    Thank you for another great post.

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