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Unlikely sources can yield useful data for leaders: Guest view

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Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.
Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County. - (Photo / )

What gets measured gets done. That oft-quoted line, attributed to lots of business gurus, is sufficient motivation to take a heartfelt look at what we measure, as well as why we measure.

In my various journeys working in and around large organizations, I have seen the search for those magic metrics spawn dashboards and score sheets like weeds, creating their own cottage industry. While that may keep data analysts happily employed, it isn’t really a viable business practice, especially for those of us in the world of small business.

Interestingly, in a story completely unrelated to business, I found a powerful example of why, what and even how we should approach our work of business metrics.

In the aftermath of the recent horrific high school massacre in Florida earlier this year, I found a story that was resurrected from a blog post in 2014 and stood in refreshing contrast to what the pundits were pushing on most of the airwaves. Here’s the gist of the blog: A very thoughtful fifth-grade teacher has been taking some simple data since the Columbine tragedy. Every Friday, she has the students write on a piece of paper the four other students they want to sit with next week.

There are no promises that the requests will be filled, and the students know that. She then combs through the answers to find those students who are not showing up on anyone’s list. Why? She’s looking for the lonely children, the ones who are disconnected. Why? Because outward violence starts as inward loneliness.

Personally, I am inspired and impressed by both the motivation and the method behind her metric. We can learn quite a bit about how to implement simple, effective business metrics that even a fifth-grader can provide the data for. Here are seven lessons that I’ve learned.

First and definitely foremost is that the purpose of her metric is to help her care better about all the students. She’s not basing the metric on the need for better test scores, but on her caring about all the students. If what gets measured, gets done, then what could be more important to measure than how we need to care about our employees and our customers?

Second, she keeps it simple. She doesn’t need any forms or databases, just a simple piece of paper. Just four names that aren’t even from a pick list. That’s a key ingredient to easily getting unvarnished data.

Speaking of unvarnished, the third point is that she measures the positive version of the question: who you want to sit with. This keeps the mind away from being defensive, and therefore promotes more honest answers. No amygdala hijacking being prompted with this approach.

To help with that unvarnishing is point four: She is asking one question but is discerning the hidden answers. This is like an X-ray, showing her the hidden reflection of what she is actually having the students record.

Point five is that she’s not looking for status, she’s seeking to learn. She takes a sincere interest in her students.

Then she keeps doing this, every week. That’s point six. This allows her to see trends and changes; her data is a movie, not a photo, and that movie reveals plot twists and character changes that would never show up in a photo.

The seventh and last point is, well, the same as the first. She does this because she cares. This is the work of a serving leader, one who measures how well he or she can serve those needs that lie below the surface.

So, if what gets measured gets done is actually a truism, then what do you really want to get done?

I’d venture to guess that down deep you want to caringly serve your own employees and your customers a bit better every day. You want to find those hidden areas where they have disconnected from you, from your company, from your product or service.

Data like that is hard to find, but this teacher’s approach is a brilliantly insightful, simple and powerful example to help you start measuring what should mean the most to you.

Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.

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