Aside

What’s Your ScoreBoard?

During my first marriage, I thought the goal was to stay married. In jobs, I thought the goal was to get promoted to the next big title/level/responsibility. When I used to seriously run, I thought it was all about completing a marathon.

This lens on life caused a vise-like grip onto certain outcomes. The wrong outcomes. By defining success as “staying married”, I would find myself giving up me to be loved by him. By saying work was about the next rung on the career ladder, I never questioned if I was suited for the role, and it for me. And by defining running to be about marathons (and, then, faster marathons), I set the bar so joy came from the milestones, rather than the inherent pleasure of leaves underfoot while alongside a creek.

In business, the certain outcomes are undoubtedly this quarter’s results. Companies and their leaders focus on this almost to the exclusion of whether they are building a company that can grow. They rob investments from future product categories or potential new markets to deliver today’s number. If you ask them, they’ll say they are getting pressure from their institutional investors to deliver (and that most institutional investors only hold onto stocks for less than 2 years, etc, yada, yada). We could comment that these CEOs/Boards needs to take back their strings because they are being led, not leading. But when asked, they will only tell you, they are doing what they are rewarded for.

(The picture is of art by Michelle Scott, who died way too early. The piece is called Yes, No, Maybe)

What we define as the scoreboard, and reward, we do. That’s a truth. But are we conscious of the scoreboard ruling our decisions, and our choices? Or, could it be that we are operating with a “that’s how things are done” default setting?

I honor how challenging it is to choose the lens. I used to think an effective scorecard was ALL about the outcomes and if anyone said otherwise, I thought they were a wuss who wanted softer/easier/lighter goals. But after a divorce, and getting fired, many physical injuries because I pushed too hard, and most recently killing my own company, I think I’m ready to give up on that type of scoreboard. Life’s experiences have taught me it is not a sufficient measure of the quality of life. In my work with me note, you can see me grappling in front of you, as I shape the new one.

Results matter. Sure. However, quantitative results alone are almost always an incomplete picture. To say quantifiable outcomes is the complete scoreboard is to measure only that which we can see. It is mechanistic. And routine. It works for the simple measures that are binary but how many of us are living that life or running that business? Quantitative measures for our scoreboards miss the measures of things unseen. For individuals, the unseen part of us includes whether we are growing, and thriving in relationships, and doing our best to bring forth our gifts into the world. For business, the unseen measures include whether we are building growing, and thriving enterprise that can and will bear more fruit, over time. The success equation for business that I’ve written about is more than quantifiable metrics. There is some discussion going on in economic circles that we need to pick quality over quantity as our “new American dream”.

The qualitative scoreboards we define for ourselves can reflect more of what we want. I am no longer committed to being married. And don’t worry, my 2nd (and last) husband knows this. He knows that I am committed to having a healthy relationship. If that means we can grow together over time, cool. We believe that for any relationship to thrive and for intimacy to emerge, each person must be dedicated to growth; otherwise, we each will hit a wall of deep dissatisfaction. Because I am committed to being fully alive in this relationship, it means I say the thing that needs to be said, or ask the hard question I don’t want to know the answer to, or deal with things directly. I don’t hide me, and he’s never surprised by things cause we talk about them as pennies and nickels and don’t hoard issues up until they become half-dollar size problems. Rather than the binary “stay married” quantitatively measured score, we choose the more subjective and qualitative “healthy relationship” as the score, that we then evaluate, and measure, and tune, and reward and celebrate. Sure, it’s more hard to measure, but more true to the point.

Scoreboards. What is it you measure now? What do you think needs to be there, instead?

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25 Responses:

  1. Jean Russell. September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm  |  

    Nilofer, reading this fantastic post, I am struck by something that may seem obvious… the things that matter are not quantifiable… and in fact, when we try to quantify them, we are instead quantifying what we perceive as evidence of those qualities. It becomes a 2nd or 3rd degree removed from what really matters. And we either make errors in judging the evidence as connected to the quality – or worse – we start seeking the measure and the map becomes the territory… Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm  |  

      In the end, I think it’s all about shared understanding. I used the personal relationship here to make it concrete… my husband and have this measure of “healthy relationship” and as the years have unfolded, that has come to have deeper and deeper meaning. Today it involves not only calling each other on our shit, but also how we honor the body and what we put into it. And all sorts of other things… we conversation we have about “how are we doing” becomes then a dialogue of exchange where we are both seeking clarity / understanding / meaning / purpose … a quant metric might not enable that. And within firms, I encourage a dialogue to define what allows us to do best work together and it’s that shared agreement and understanding that reduces friction and enables velocity.

      Looking at above, that’s a lot of words. Let me know if any of them make sense as assembled.

      Nilofer

      Reply
      • Jean Russell. September 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm  |  

        Thank you Nilofer. Yes, we are seeking shared understanding. Amazing how cleanly we move forward when we have that. One of the core pieces of my coach training was getting to evidence that you can sense – what do you taste, smell, feel, see, or hear as evidence of reaching a goal. I think one way we see it is by counting or measuring. But the count isn’t the evidence – what we are counting is. And the evidence isn’t the goal, it is a product or even by-product of a goal. These degrees of removal from the thing itself can mislead us from the thing itself if we aren’t mindful.
        Let me wander down another path and see if it gets somewhere. A coaching client tells me they want to earn another $10,000 this quarter. Okay, great. What for? What is it that you really want? Well, I want to buy new furniture for the living room. Great. That sounds fun! Now, let’s explore 2 paths. 1. How can you indeed earn or get another $10,000 this quarter. And 2. What will having new furniture get for you. Addressing the first is easy. Simple problem solving and brainstorming then accountabilities. The second is hard and yet transformative – digging into the series of iterative questions – and what will that get for you? And what will having that get for you? And when we get to THAT answer, we can make a better judgment about whether furniture meets that need/desire or something else is better suited. As well as how to address that need/desire even if the goal of $10,000 isn’t met. When we get to the core needs and desires, they are never numerical. They are things like love, trust, companionship, safety, a sense of possibility, etc. And we can also get into the real mud of our souls – the why of our desires – I want that because I am afraid. I want it because I feel inadequate. I want it because I am jealous. I want it because I need to feel desirable. There and then, that is where the soul breaks free, if you dare.

        Reply
        • Nilofer Merchant. October 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm  |  

          You nailed several things here. It’s the purpose of the metric, not the metric itself that matters. It is meaning, not money. Which is not to say money doesn’t matter. it does. But when it flows from meaning, then we are in harmony within ourselves and with our work.

          Reply
  2. Leslie Forman. September 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm  |  

    Excellent post. This is a topic that doesn’t come up nearly enough. I live and work with a 22-year-old graduate of a top university, where he was a varsity athlete. This boy has lived a very structured life, in which the goals and schedule were set by other people, and he had no reason to question them. Now he’s working for a startup in a foreign country, where the goals are not so apparent and the schedule does not exist. But he still wants to give 100%, and this sometimes comes up at inopportune times (such as when faced with an open bar… I’ll let you imagine it.)

    I’ve never much for the ScoreBoards you mention. I’ve never been married, never worked for a company in which a promotion was a desirable option, and never run a marathon (though I did complete the half marathon on the Great Wall a few years back.)

    Several people tell me I should create more specific, quantifiable goals. Your post reminds me that I should make sure these are on a ScoreBoard that actually matters to me. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer Sertl. September 27, 2011 at 10:16 am  |  

    Your post is timely for me, Nilofer, as we are both very visible leaders. I am experiencing the need to change course. There is that first inner knowing and inner truth, then there is the public declaration. What is difficult is the change. We all know we need to recalibrate our lives and redefine what success & happiness are. That is not the issue. The issue is having the strength and perseverance when you are in the middle of the shift. No one tells you how clumsy you will feel, no one tells you that it is hard to command clarity when you are lost in the midst of discovery. I am writing it here to remind those who hear your grand invitation to build personal buffers in the design because going from “learned success” to “authentic success” is indeed a bumpy ride.

    My best to our continued clarity . . .and dare I say joy?,

    Jennifer

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm  |  

      If we look around us, the world is creating a new set of rules — from business to government… nothing is really the same. I know several people who are trying to block it out by doing more of the same and hoping things will return to “normal”. But then there’s some of us (trying to) lending light into the newness. I write specifically about the process of the change (along with the changes themselves) with the hope it helps others to realize the bumpy ride is just the bumpy ride, not a sign to quit and go back. Hope it emboldens you in your journey …

      Reply
  4. Anton van den Berg. September 27, 2011 at 10:55 am  |  

    What a great post Nilofer.

    What I experience and take away from this post is in essence the difference between knowing and living. We all know that we should balance our lives, and that quality of living should be considered when making life choices.

    Somehow we have to suffer pain, injustice, public and private humiliation to become who we are. It is like some acid has to strip off the veneer that is our “persona” to reveal the human inside.

    However, this is one of the most rewarding personal growth experiences I have ever encountered, and as you (and some of the commentators) rightly highlight, some of the most challenging moments of our lives. Sometimes it feels like you are learning to be an engineer and repairing the rocket engine during the launch phase. Overwhelming sometimes falls well short as a descriptor.

    The funniest thing emerges from this growth process for me. It is the indisputable realisation that organisations are indeed living entities too. They experience all the things we do as the grow, adapt and mature without the benefit of a singular spokesman.

    I thank you for this and I hope that this message will be read by thousands of influential people who will engage their brains, emotional intelligence and situational awareness and apply that to their lives and business.

    Have a Happy Day.
    :-) Anton

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 27, 2011 at 5:55 pm  |  

      Organizations are living organisms. Like an atom. We’ve been working to define them as rigid “things” when they are always in motion.

      (stop by anytime…)

      Nilofer

      Reply
  5. Peter C. September 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm  |  

    I am always trying to navigate between the quantifiable and the “qualifiable” (telling that there is no such word). Measurable progress is so important, but it can result in what I think of as stage-craft rather than a life – we have so many measurement techniques and pressures to prove ourselves through numbers I think a cultural backlash is in store, eventually. I have long admired the hard-headed approach, but I’ve started to notice that living in the wash of numbers alone can leave you without a life. There is more than measurement, its just difficult to know how to use the tools of measurement to help us get on with life in a meaningful way. Slightly rambling comment, but the post (as with so many of these), struck me.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. September 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm  |  

      Lovely ramble Peter. By the way, I thought my post was a bit rambly also. There will be a time when the idea is crisper perhaps but, for now, this is me “grappling” aloud with you as we work to find define the mix of qual/quant that works for each of us.

      Reply
  6. Terri Griffith. September 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm  |  

    Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

    Albert Einstein

    Nice company.

    I also appreciate the push toward continuous versus either or measures. As my students often note (and then I put a line through the sentence), “It’s hard to measure…” Yes, it is often hard – but that’s what we do.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm  |  

      Did you just compare me to Einstein? I’ll take it. ;-)

      Reply
  7. Chris Glennie. September 28, 2011 at 7:26 am  |  

    Nilofer

    You challenged me to leave a response here, since my twitter comment in turn challenged some of the thinking here – but really, 140 characters didn’t do my thinking – my questioning – justice. I said I’d reply in the morning when fresh, but of course am not, as I have not slept for pondering my reply.

    I read your original post immediately after having read ‘The New American Dream’ (http://peopleseconomist.blogspot.com/2001/09/new-american-dream.html), and I think that became a prism through which to interpret what you were saying. Coming back to both posts 24 hours later allows me to see that this was partially correct. Both you and Tom Osenton are writing about what he called ‘The Qualitative Revolution’ and in essence you are asking readers to look past the Scorecards of old and start thinking anew. His is more directly focussed on economics, yours on more personal aspects, but they both look broadly at the same issue from different angles.

    Let me also say that my reflections are also influenced by my own present situation: I’m unemployed. This partially explains why I have time to write long blog comments, but more importantly gives me a who,e different set of prejudices about personal growth vs economic growth. Mt bottom line is…. well, we’ll get to that.

    When you put ‘scoreboard’ in a title, any sport nut (well, male sport nut – am I still allowed to say that?) will take this very literally. And here’s the point of my twitter reply: Without the scoreboard (yes, a binary, quantitative thing), how do you know if you’re winning? The scoreboard is an essential part of the game; it’s not the point of the game, and it can’t tell you what’s going on, the subtlety of the plays, the mental, physical, emotional, moral state of the players or teams, but without it there is just pointless running around (and if you follow England football – that’s ‘soccer’ – you’ll see enough of that anyway).

    So, my bottom line number one is that the quantitative scoreboard really really matters, and it’s really really important to keep it up to date. Businesses need to keep turning a profit, individuals need income greater than outgoings. Simples. When Tom Osenton writes about the ‘qualitative revolution’, whilst I get all the points that he makes about how we measure things, I come up against this point: We have to find jobs for people (or they create them themselves, one or the other), and when push comes shove, the quantitative trumps the qualitative.

    Now, I know that your argument is rather more subtle than I may have portrayed it, and that you acknowledge the need for quantitative measures. It’s the same in sport – it’s not ‘win at all costs’. There are teams we support or play for because of the manner in which they play, because in some sense their ‘values’ match our own. But in our sporting life, our hobby life, we can be that indulgent – we can go on supporting a side that loses and loses because we have other ties. But life’s not like that, and under pressure – and ultimately, everything is under pressure – we are forced to fall back onto the quantitative. Values don’t feed baby.

    So, I suppose my second bottom line is this: I worry that talk of a ‘qualitative revolution’ IS simply indulgent, a product of us somehow thinking that in 2011 we must have evolved beyond the ‘rat race’. And some will say that we have, that we can live this ‘balanced’ life. And it will work for a few, but not the many. We may sit behind desks and run Hi-Tech companies, but all we are still trying to do is get the harvest in before winter. And you can’t eat the leaves underfoot by the creek.

    OK, so I’m probably being too binary and bleak (“We’re all doomed!”). More rationally, I think you may be guilty in this post of setting up false opposites. “Staying married” and “Having a healthy relationship” aren’t opposites. “Staying married” is the goal; “having a healthy relationship” is the means. Staying married is the scorecard; having a healthy relationship is the way you have decided to play the game. “Staying married” is binary; having a healthy relationship will be played differently by each team (married couple). Going with the analogy – not thrusting my moral universe down anyone’s throat – we all have to stay married, if we can choose the manner, great, but if we can’t, well, that’s life. You can’t get divorced from economic activity.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm  |  

      Chris, your thinking did much the same for me — got me thinking. And while I know I could write something long in response, let me try and do it shorter.

      On a personal level, our society largely reinforces seriously quantitative “do I have a big job, big house, branded car” stuff, and that diminishes the soul if we are unhappy at what we do, overstretched in all we attempt, and focused more on the outer life than the inner life. I am not saying we don’t need jobs or to earn money or to pay our mortgage. I am saying that we can be intentional about our personal choices because this need not be a either/or thing.

      On a business level, I’m seeing too many “leaders” saying it’s about this quarter’s results, yet they are not investing in the future growth. They measure the thing they get rewarded on rather than the things that make the organization viable. It’s just lame when you look at it in this binary way but it is the dominant construct of our market dynamics right now.

      Our job is to move from binary to complex thinking (Roger Martin’s work, The Opposable Mind, was quite useful to help me language this many years ago.) And of course to give ourselves permission to define for ourselves what “success” looks like. And from a business point of view, there’s some deeper systemic work to be done. Let’s at least start with ourselves.


      Nilofer

      Reply
  8. Alex Dogliotti. September 29, 2011 at 7:34 am  |  

    You know what the problem with scoreboards is? That you may not care about them, but others do. Our CV is structured around milestones, the very way in which we gather information is organized around quantifiable data (when you talked about your marathon, how many people asked you your personal best time?), even the way in which we recognize others is organized that way (how much money one makes, job titles, age. They all help to shape a certain idea of a person in our mind). So I totally agree with your take on this post, but I wonder how to make coincide the way you see yourself with the way you want others to see you. Or if ignoring that altogether.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm  |  

      I hear you Alex. I get the outside world rewards quantifiable things. But here’s the other thing I see. Our world is changing. The industrial era rewarded badges and employee numbers, but social will reward those with personal toolkit and portfolio for ways we contribute. Tom Peters first talked about this concept in his Free Agent thesis and perhaps he was more prescient than any one of us gave him credit for. Organizations will need to shift from managing a job function, to managing each person based on their unique contributions they bring. This of course raises the bar on the individual to know what they are passionate about in order to come in, perform what is needed, and move onto the next portfolio item. It is not that our CV won’t matter, it’s that we need a guiding principle to develop our CVs that matters to us.

      Reply
  9. Nilofer Merchant. October 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm  |  

    Interesting that Seth wrote about metrics this morning…worth sharing. It’s called “Roads Not Taken”:

    Kick yourself all day about the stupid thing you said, the bug you introduced, the promise you failed to keep. That’s pretty common.

    Perhaps you should think about the stock you didn’t buy, the innovation you didn’t pursue, the compliment you didn’t give?

    Way more productive, I think, to push yourself to be more in the world, not to encourage yourself to hide.

    We respond to what we keep track of. Too bad we’re not better at keeping track of how many failures we incorrectly predicted, how many innovations we failed to notice and how many apparently risky steps we failed to take.

    HIs point of course is about meaning and purpose and doing what know you need to do.

    Reply
  10. Kate Hammer. October 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm  |  

    Nilofer, I’m joining the conversation having discovered Yes & Know several weeks ago. Your mention of Seth Godin’s post brings to mind “throughlines” – it’s a term that crops up in theatre and film reviews. It comes from an acting theory developed in the early 20th century that became hugely influential, especially in America where it morphed into what became known as “Method Acting”. A throughline is everything a dramatic character feels, thinks, reacts witnessed by the audience but also what happens “offstage” in the gaps when no one is watching. In conventional plays, a year or twenty might pass during intermission. It’s the actor’s job to make sense of the inner truth and reality of the character s/he plays, filling in the gaps good playwrights (even the best) leave in order to make a character believable and worthy of an audience’s attention. The work is largely invisible, but thanks to the throughline each actor crafts, the fiction comes to life and the audience feels moved by the drama. They’ve given their attention and in return the theatre production has been meaningful. Nothing about this exchange can be quantified. Sure you can count the seats filled, multiply it by two to guage the number of eyeballs….but nothing of the quality of the experience will be captured. It feels to me that the experience in business and innovation and leadership and self-invention you’re charting in this wonderful blog is traversing territory familiar to me from my work as an actor, a storyteller and a catalyst for invention and belief. I’m offering “throughline” as a term from a specific field that may not be familiar, on the hunch it may interest you as you journey (and perhaps circle back to) inherited metrics.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm  |  

      This may very well be my favorite word behind embody. Thank YOU.

      Reply

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