Posts Tagged ‘measure’

Smart(er) Measures

July 1, 2015


Which of these challenges is most important to solve: teen pregnancy, hunger, diabetes, or drunk driving?

Where should we focus time and money to improve lives and our communities?

Just as sports and commerce have been recast by data, the health field is leading the way for different mental models that help us calculate value in the social sector. In the US last year, more than 600,000 people died from heart disease while about 75,000 died from diabetes. Does that make heart disease eight times worse than diabetes?

We’re well aware death is inevitable. Still, many conditions aren’t terminal but very costly for individuals and society. In fact, the non-fatal conditions account for the vast majority of health costs. With this rationale, health economists have created new measures. One is a unit identified as “disability-adjusted life years” or DALYs. DALYs calculate the years of healthy life. A DALY is generated by identifying the years of life lost when a person dies (compared with a projected average without the condition). Then, the total years lived with a disability are tallied. A DALY is generated based on estimates of how nonfatal conditions detract from perfect health.

Using this new measurement unit, one can rank health problems. For example, in 2012, scientists reported 200,000 more deaths by lung cancer than traffic accidents worldwide. But, when calculated in DALYs, road injuries are far worse. Most lung cancer deaths are among older folks. Those who tend to die in car accidents with frequency are young – in their 20s and 30s. Importantly, road injuries cause about 40 times more disabilities when people survive them. Should we invest in anti-smoking or road safety campaigns?

Mexico has moved to this kind of analysis for treatments. Now, childhood cancer treatments and emergency care for car accidents are high priorities. Australia has also used DALYs to focus on childhood obesity and other issues. The application of DALYs in the US identifies low back pain, depression and anxiety as enormous health concerns. They generate substantial costs because of prevalence along with significant pain and suffering.

New statistics offer different and valuable viewpoints. They can threaten the status quo. Capable leaders use them to support change and progress. DALYs are a great example of how, with new measures, we can enable rational decisions. Isn’t that smarter? In fact, it can affect how we live and die.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Smart Measurement

August 4, 2014

If data told you where to improve and whether you’re successful or off-course, would you want it? Would you use it? When talk turns to metrics –people often shut down. Mostly, it’s because relevance and utility are absent. Sometimes it’s because people prefer to avoid accountability.

The sticky and too-common problem: people collect and report a vast range of items that are easy to measure instead of deeply understanding and choosing a vital few metrics.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be vital navigation gauges to understand where your work stands compared to planned results. The right data is used to improve both processes and impact. In your selection, make sure data is both  relevant and actionable.

One way to organize indicators is to see your organization in several big parts. A simple four-piece dashboard common to the private sector includes: customers (or participants), financial performance (outcomes), internal processes, and talent. Those noted in parentheses are a social sector comparable.

What do you need to know about each to make decisions?

1.Customers or Participants It makes sense to have information about your customers or participants…without them, the enterprise quickly fails. For both exempt and for-profit organizations, you might want to know what is your participant retention rate? You also might want to know about “reach,” which is closely associated with the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. How well do you translate inquiries, invitations, presentations, web views into new participants? This is a “conversion rate.” To determine growth, the size of your slice of the pie, compared to others in the same market is important to know, too. This is relative market share.

2.Financial Performance or Outcomes The private sector identifies a revenue growth rate or net profit margin. In this context, it’s also relatively simple to calculate return on investment. Although more complex, the social sector can describe outcomes, too. Results often come in the form of reductions or gains, e.g., fewer teens in the criminal justice system or better science scores by 9th grade. It’s important to be able to describe short-, intermediate and long-term outcomes. Specifying those outcome chains in a time sequence  informs smart plans, adaptation and progress. It’s essential to know where you are …to get where you’re going. A social service agency or foundation cites the aggregate of their effort across multiple programs or grantees. For example, Pew Trusts delivers public value from environmental partnerships in several selected priorities.

3.Internal Processes The cost and quality of internal processes are ripe areas for review because these can be directly influenced by capable managers. We know the overall enterprise performance is deeply connected with routine functions. The maturation or relative sophistication in processes is an important measure. So, for example, in planning: Does rigor, discipline and evidence occur in a standard process and cycle? In addition, capacity as well as productivity are areas to assess against standards, as is the value on-going projects contribute to operations.

4.Talent High performing organizations rely on great talent. Organizational leadership as well as human resource practices vary in quality. Both significantly influence workforce and the workplace. “Best in class” human resource practices focus on talent identification, selection, development and retention. The talent domain raises these and many more questions: What competencies and attributes matter most in our staff? Do we have the right people? Will staff recommend their employer as a great place to work? Do staff attitudes and behaviors contribute to the enterprise goals? How do staff rate each other, themselves, their supervisors? What’s the depth of the management bench? Is the prevailing culture healthy or toxic?

Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Steering your ship requires the right information at the right time to inform choices. It is why skillful management measures carefully.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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