Creating a Metrics Culture

metrics-artAt a non-profit workshop recently, in a room full of motivated people starting new exciting educational gardening projects, I was given a great piece of advice: Start collecting metrics. The days of projects getting funded just because they feel good are over. I have to prove that my project is going to make an impact. And to do that I have to find relevant metrics to measure, track, and point to. I’m excited about it – and realize lots of projects, programs, and businesses have to do this.

Whether you are a creative start-up measuring youth and energy, a small business clinging to your economic metrics, or a new non-profit still trying to figure out what to measure – getting a grip on business metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is critical to your growth and survival. As a rule, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!

1. GOALS: Determining what needs to be tracked and measured can be overwhelming, but think about it from your end goal and work backwards. What are your clearly defined goals?

Have you ever looked at your mission statement and thought “Well, that is kinda vague”? It’s not uncommon. It’s beneficial to have big picture goals like “We want to change the world!” Those are helpful in keeping everyone inspired and united towards the same mission, but you certainly need detailed defined supporting goals like “In six months we want to have made a 1 million dollar impact on eradicating homelessness in our county” to be able to measure your effectiveness. Then you can continue to drill down to smaller and more measurable goals for each department or volunteer group.

2. INDICATORS: What needs to be measured to determine if you’re on track to reach each goal? These will be called your Indicators. Now that you have some specific goals it should be a little clearer which indicators you need to track. Here are some examples:

A great list for startup businesses: 9 Business Metrics Every Startup Should Watch

And here’s Forbe’s similar list of 10 Metrics Every Growing Business Must Keep An Eye On

And here is a wonderful set of 19 metrics measured in urban agriculture in New York City: Five Borough Farm Impact Indicator Guide

3. DATA: Thoroughly sift your data. Even though this can be time consuming, it is absolutely necessary. In our digital age we have so much data it can be overwhelming. Use this time to really dig for gold – and ignore all the non-essential data. Then determine if your metrics are truly showing your effectiveness. If they aren’t  – what else can be more accurate? If your metrics are giving you solid insight, but you’re not moving towards your goals – what needs to change inside your organization to start moving the needle?

It takes courage to change what you measure – but being flexible even on this foundational level can have a big payoff. Here’s what The Nature Conservancy did when they realized they weren’t being effective in their mission: Measuring What Matters.

4. CULTURE: Commit to making this process part of your business culture – revisit it regularly. Train your employees or volunteers to intentionally track progress – keep proving that you’re getting better and better. Be stubborn about your mission – but stay flexible about your methods to get there. Before you know it, your organization will be setting and reaching goals – proving your impact – and changing the world!