7.4. Numbering

In Chapter 5: Setting Up Your Dashboard (Numbering — from Achievements to Data) we covered the requirement to monitor and measure the achievements that you make within your business, in effect, to allocate numbers to those achievements. This numbering activity gives you objective measures of your achievements and helps to remove the variability associated with different people’s opinions. One person’s idea of ‘fast’, or ‘clean’, or ‘valuable’ is not the same as another’s. However, everyone can agree on what the numbers 5, 23 and 42 mean.


We saw previously how important it is to have targets at which to aim, as it allows everyone to agree on the fact that you have achieved something of importance that increases your business’s chances of survival. We also covered some of the benefits of having a motivated workforce. The more motivated your workforce, the better the job that they are likely to do. Less motivated people will tend to do the least they can to make it through the day. One way to bring targets and motivation together is to ensure that you celebrate your achievements. When you hit or exceed a target, celebrate and thank everyone involved.


It is all too easy for managers (especially business owners) to put great effort into bemoaning the fact that a target has been missed, that something didn’t work as anticipated, that the people in the team are not trying hard enough. If you are to do this and not end up losing all your people and standing alone in the ruins of your business, make sure that you celebrate in an appropriate manner when targets are hit. Failure to celebrate targets whilst showing great willingness to moan about failures will mark you as someone for whom people don’t want to try hard or indeed work. It costs more to recruit than it does to say ‘Thank you, well done’, so put some effort into being positive and save yourself some money and pain.

You cannot control what you do not measure

Another mantra for your consideration is, ‘You cannot control what you do not measure’. More correctly, this should be ‘You cannot demonstrate control of something that you do not measure’, but the principle is the same. There is a world of difference between someone saying ‘I worked hard today’ and someone recording that they shifted three tonnes of cement. Two people can both tell you that they worked hard, but their productivity can be different. This isn’t meant to imply that you should stand over people, micromanaging their every move and whipping the ones that are not productive enough. No, it is merely that it is common sense to understand your business, to measure things and then provide everyone with the numbers (hard data), that you are going to use to control and steer your business.


You cannot determine how many people to recruit to your operation if you do not understand individual productivity, if you don’t have the data. You cannot determine how many tonnes of cement to order if you do not know how much cement goes into one cubic metre of foundations. You cannot determine what to charge for your products and services if you do not know how much they cost to create and deliver. Stick a number on it and, at the very least, it’ll help everyone to understand where your business is and what must happen for it to get to where you want it to be.


However, if you recall, the caveat is that numbering, recording all these measurements, takes time, so don’t measure things when you are not going to use the numbers or the data generated. Your people will notice if you insist that they collect measurements that you do nothing, or appear to do nothing, with. And that last part is the important part. It is their perception that will clinch it. If you ask one of your team to spend time collecting numbers associated with what they are doing, have the courtesy to explain why and then demonstrate how you are making decisions using those data. If they see that counting the number of customers in the shop has an effect on the amount of supplies that you then ask them to acquire, they will see the importance. If instead, you insist that they answer the telephone within three rings and then do not ask your customers for their feedback regarding the speed with which their call was answered, then they will lose motivation and start to think about you as someone who creates work just for the sake of making sure that they are busy. In the end, they will find something else to be doing with their time and that will be somewhere else.


When thinking about what it is within your business that should be measured, looking at other businesses, or asking other business owners what they do, can provide you with useful tips. There are certain measurements that most businesses need to be keeping an eye on if they wish to survive, e.g., cash flow, cost of sales, rate of sales, etc., and others that they can do without. Different businesses require different things to be measured. Cobblers need to measure their customers’ feet, but a hairdresser probably doesn’t. A loan guarantee company needs to measure your credit rating, but it is unlikely that your butcher cares very much, and long as you hand over the money before you get your hands on the sausages, he’ll be happy.


All businesses exist within their local, national and international economic environments and the significance of the impact of each depends upon the business. What is important to measure will change over time. These changes can be regular if a business’s activities are linked to an annual cycle, like growing and harvesting crops, but they will change in less predictable ways for all businesses as they grow. For example, measuring flux in the workforce (how many people leave and how many join each month) will be important for an international chain of supermarkets, but not for a team of six estate agents. Do not cleave to your measurement decisions with blind obedience. Keep asking yourself whether something that you previously considered important continues to be important and whether something previously considered unimportant is becoming important, and then if it needs changing, change it.


Regardless of what you decide is important to measure, those numbers must make it onto your dashboard, allowing you to use the data that you have generated to steer your business. Showing your people these dashboards will help to demonstrate the importance of numbering within the business and will reduce the chance that the numbering activities will be ‘forgotten’ because they are busy. If you embed the requirement to allocate numbers to the job to the doing of that job, then you are less likely to find yourself in the position of having everybody being really busy, but not knowing exactly what it is that they are producing.


Notwithstanding whether the impact is direct or indirect, we all work within a global economy that runs 24 hours—a—day, seven days—a—week. This means that you take your eyes off the road at your peril. Hang on, how can you look at your dashboard if you are supposed to keep your eyes on the road? How can you look at the road, if you are supposed to be keeping your eyes on your dashboard? Sorry, but you have to do both!


If you are worried about the clash of concepts with the requirement to keep looking at your dashboard whilst simultaneously keeping your eyes on the road, then think of your dashboard as a ‘heads—up’ display. This has been the standard in military aircraft for some time and now a number of luxury car manufacturers are following suit. If thinking in this way helps, and you’d find it easier to explain to your team, then do it.

Numbers are objective, opinions subjective

In summary, TINA’s Numbering sector prompts you to assign numbers to your achievements, allowing everyone to agree on where your business is, and what needs to happen to get it to where you all want it to be. As your numbers are objective measures (yes, I know that the people making the measurements can make subjective judgements about the numbers), they can be agreed upon by everyone fairly readily and you can be confident that you are getting hold of the data you need to steer your business away from the failure abyss.