Strategy I: Indicators

Strategy is a huge and fascinating subject. It starts though internally, operationally and very simply with a question: How is your organization performing?

Without first understanding where you are, how can you possibly determine how to get where you want to be?

That last sentence is more significant than it may appear. When starting to think strategy, think action. How are you going to get there – practical things, doing words, actions.

Strategy is often listed as a collection of goals, targets and aspirations. Good strategy is a coherent group of actions that deliver short term goals, in turn long term targets and finally the aspirations of an organization.

So where is the organization now? And the related question that is always worth adding to this step of strategy – how did we get here?

Where you are can always be summarized by a series of indicators, making them useful is the hard part. Let us start with a few simple guidelines:

  1. Indicators should be easily available
  2. Indicators should summarize many things into one place
  3. Indicators should be reviewed regularly

Exploring these in turn then; easily available (most of the time). This means you don’t have to work too hard to get the information. There are points for an organization (financial year end being an obvious one) when indicators are produced with a good amount of effort. Producing the accounts will probably take a good amount of work. But you don’t want to be running reports, analyzes, completing surveys and compiling masses of data all the time.

Summary data – it’s a good thing. One indicator that tells you about many parts of your organization. An example here is probably a good thing – so consider monitoring staff utilization – how much time to staff spend delivering the things the organization does? This one number often expressed as a percentage will perhaps indicate whether internal processes are too cumbersome or if demand for services is high or low. But it can’t do this alone – more on this in a moment.

Regular review – it’s essential. Without a regular review you have little or no idea whether the indicators you have generated are good news or bad news. For example – Utilization this year is 75%. So what. Then consider utilization is 75% this year on average but only 50% when considering the last two months. Now you can investigate and ask that most powerful of questions so popular with my kids: Why?

At this point I have advocated for easily available indicators that summarize many things that you review regularly. Now how about building a complimentary set of indicators? Up to this point you have obtained data. The trick here is to turn data into information. Going back to our utilization example – add to the trend data we have these things:

  • Staff turnover and numbers
  • Service inquiries per month
  • Complaints made per month

Clearly it is not too hard to imagine the insight you can now obtain. These four data points plotted together on a simple graph might allow you to identify how utilization dropped, after some staff losses that seemed to be linked to complaints and a further drop in service inquiries. Remember though take one of these alone and the comparative assessment isn’t possible – you can’t tell the story.

This last example is that extra question – how did we get here?

Only by understanding where you are through meaningful indicators, can you tell that story of how you got to be where you are and only then can you decide to take action to change it.

Think about your organizations:

  • Are you tracking the right indicators?
  • Are you reviewing them regularly?
  • Do they give you a good indication of how the organization is performing?
  • Can you pick out some stories? – if not it’s probably time to change.