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Have a 6 Minute Epiphany Using This Weekly Tool

October 16, 2012

Yes, we get it. Your office is busy, busy, busy. Time is fleeting, and there are customers to service, compliance issues to check off and new prospects to canvass. Looking beyond the frenzied activity that is indeed necessary, it is not sufficient.

man points to key performance indicators
Measure your small business sizzle with forward-looking KPIs

We grant you that the crucible of business is that work exceeds the hours of the day. Prioritization must be omnipresent.

But beyond setting priorities is the fact that if your small business is not looking forward, you are by definition dead in the water, or (a worst offense!) looking backwards.

And many small businesses that we see make this mistake. For example, discussion surrounds metrics such as ‘Dollars booked in the last quarter’ or ‘Number of likes on a page’ or ‘Units shipped on-time.’ Those measures are all fine and there is a role for reviewing past performance. Yet as the fine print in a prospectus mentions, past performance is no indicator of future performance.

So I urge you to create an environment where each and every employee knows and takes to heart, forward-looking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Not only can you make great strides by forecasting more accurately, but your small business can leap ahead an entire quarter or more over your competition if you would just use a handful of forward-looking KPIs.

Keep your focus on them, and use a weekly, monthly and quarterly rhythm to bring the Greek chorus together, and focus on building there.

What do we mean by forward-looking KPIs?

Here is an example. The ‘Number of feet on the ground hunting for opportunities’ is going to be a better predictor of how many opportunities you might see on the horizon, as compared with how many people clicked through your last email blast or how many phone calls were completed. That is why truly hungry players are always on the lookout for good business development folks. If you spread your energy among a larger group of hunter-types, unless something goes terribly wrong, your business would expect to better fill the pipeline. That is what we bank on when we seek to extend our footprint nationwide.

Recently, I heard one firm’s President mention that they were going to cancel participation in one of the two October trade shows where they had planned to exhibit. What held them back from following through on their commitment? The answer is two-fold: a cash crunch and they did not have the appropriate sales material in place, creating a helter skelter rush mentality.

On the one hand, we don’t mean to minimize the need for realism. On the other hand, one decision feeds into another. That is, if participation in an upcoming trade show is one of your firm’s key metrics, then cancelling your participation means you are sinking on one of your forward-looking KPIs. Where will this decision land a small business?

Most likely, back to the beginning. When what you really want is back to the future.

Here are the marching orders for small businesses that really want to be future-oriented:

  1. Select a handful of forward-looking KPIs; three to six KPIs are the maximum number of metrics that people can realistically pursue
  2. Make sure that you communicate with everyone on your team, that these are the things that you are going to measure, these are the things that will steer your schooner safely and efficiently moving ahead, and these are the accountability metrics
  3. Hold meetings at least weekly, monthly and quarterly to review progress towards these goals, and figure out the why and wherefores of what is working and what is not
  4. Go around the room and have everyone speak to these numbers, so that no one is left out, and no one’s attention can fail to notice the “come to Jesus” KPIs

If done correctly, it should take perhaps 6 minutes. Hence, our cryptic reference to a 6-minute tool. But if it takes a bit longer, no worries. We can happily embrace a bit of banter (or a good joke) in the workplace.

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