Friday, October 19, 2007

Caution: Your Measures May Be Terminal

When I was growing up, I remember seeing signs on McDonald's saying "50 million served" or something like that, and years later seeing "over a billion served." It's logical to assume that if that many people have been served, then they must be providing a something that keeps people coming back. If their success measure is to continue to grow the number served, then they are succeeding by their own definition.

As a child, I remember crying when I had to eat something from McDonald's. The rubbery hamburgers, paper-like buns and greasy fries never sat well with me. To this day, I don't understand why people eat there, especially after the movie Supersize Me came out.

In my world of values and measures, McDonald's is not successful. Although they may be filling a short-term hunger need, they really don't have their customer's long-term health interest written into the vision and heart of their business. It's a major flaw of many major companies such as Pepsi, Coke, Marlboro, and even Starbucks. I say this even though I'm a big Starbucks fan. I go in for the coffee of the day and the great atmosphere. They've created a culture where customers hold the door open for each other and chat in line. People meet up with friends and tap their feet to good tunes. That doesn't happen just anywhere!

How do you know if you're providing good products and service? If you're organization is in growth mode and your profits are stable or increasing, then you're probably providing a fairly good offering relative to your competition. Companies who don't establish the right success measures, aligned with their vision and mission, simply don't grow. They die, sooner or later.

Smart companies seek customer feedback and continuously improve the customer experience. Many customers are very willing to offer feedback, if the company cares enough to ask. It's easy and inexpensive to ask for customer feedback. A few questions on a postcard or sheet of paper that costs a few cents to produce, may bring in priceless ideas. I believe that every company ought to offer to their customers at least one simple way to provide feedback on paper, on-line or both.

Feedback and measures influence behavior and build culture in businesses, families, churches and in societies. A parent who loved sports as a child may keep mental score on their own children, by bragging about how active their kids are. Another parent may pressure their kids to get a good highschool GPA. A church with a mission of winning souls may track their number of baptisms, a measure of people entering eternal life. China's one-child policy launched in the 1970s resulted in abortions, female infanticide and imbalances in the boy-girl sex ratio. Measures can be deadly!

Healthy companies have smart measures that encourage cooperation, good flow and growth. Unhealthy companies have measures that stifle their people and the body of employees feels the pain and stress. Unhealthy companies also lack measures where they need them. Any company that doesn't have an effective customer feedback system in place is doing business in the dark and puts itself at risk of finding its name on these types of sites:

Attorneys track their caseload and their billable hours. Authors measure their success by the number of books or articles they've published. Magazines boast about their circulation. Churches track the number of members and their weekly tithe collection. Couples talk about the square footage of their home or their combined household income. Accountants talk about net worth. Individuals are often judged by their age. In January, the number one New Year's Resolution of Americans is a personal weight goal.

Measures and related activities need to change over time. What gets an individual or organization to one level may not get it to the next level or the next.

Toastmasters International has measures that define their distinguished clubs: number of members, number of new certifications and so on. The measures help to ensure that the members meet their speaking goals. This keeps the clubs alive and the organization increasing in number. Members become equipped to make a difference in their communities. This is a hard thing to measure, but Toastmasters just recently upgraded their website to feature member success stories and to automate their shopping cart. This is a great organization and I believe that it has been so successful because of the measures that they've put in place and adjusted over time.

How do you measure your success?

What measures are most important to you?

What feedback measures do you have in place?

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