Looking beyond metrics for long-term success

By: Rosie Handby
Date: August, 2016
File under: Articles

Obtaining ongoing customer feedback and assessing staff and company performance is key to any successful organisation. Most organisations are on board with this and, in theory, see the value in it. However, implementing a successful tracking study – so that a measurable improvement can be determined – can be a lot harder than it first seems.

In this article, we look at three key aspects that need to be addressed to successfully set up a tracking study.

Understanding the business

  • What are the business objectives and goals? Performance metrics should align with specific objectives and goals of the company in a meaningful and tangible way. As such, it is imperative that an in-depth understanding of the business is obtained before any decision around what or how to track is determined.
  • Is there agreement across stakeholders? Forming a relationship with all key stakeholders is very important. Without the agreement of all parties involved it is very difficult to have a successful outcome.
  • What is the business structure and its processes? Opinions and focus of what is important will vary by business level/unit. So a thorough understanding of how a company operates, its business structure, and what the relationships and challenges are between business units or levels is essential.

How efficient are internal communications? A study’s success is impacted by how research objectives and goals (and subsequent implications and expectations) are communicated across the business.

Understanding what to track

  • Don’t treat a tracking study as a “one-stop shop” for all your information needs. Once everyone is on board with research objectives, and can see the potential opportunities they can provide the business, stakeholders may think the study is as an answer to all their needs. The caution here is to ensure the focus of the study does not get lost in the enthusiasm for information.
  • Be wary with ongoing measures versus once-off assessments. Remember that a tracking study’s purpose is to track information over time, i.e. generate ongoing measures, identify trends, and compare spikes and dips. It is not designed to provide answers to specific problems or explore potential solutions.
  • Outline specific – not general – metrics. There are many articles and books that suggest what core measures an organisation should track. While these measures serve as a good starting point, the most effective measures are ones designed specifically for a company. For example, instead of measuring “staff attitude”, measuring more specific words like “approachable”, “supportive”, “knowledgeable” or “friendly” provide better insight.  Knowing which words to use come from having an in-depth understanding of who/what you are profiling.
  • Carefully consider the options available to you when deciding on metric scales. There are many views but core considerations include ease of understanding, how they will be used, and how they will operate within the business. Other factors like the level of accuracy and predictive power are important, but come second to the application to business.
  • Align outcomes with internal metrics as much as possible. When determining what metrics to assess, it is important to understand what internal data is available – and how this might marry up with the external research data from your tracking study. Combining both data sources and understanding the correlations between them is key to the overall success of your tracking study.

Understanding and managing risk

  • What are the expectations from your research? If expectations are not clearly identified and managed, stakeholders may be quick to dismiss results from the tracking study – particularly if results do not show a direct correlation with the overarching metrics they are looking to improve. For example, when measuring customer retention, a thorough analysis prior to designing the tracking study may identify other factors that may have an impact. These factors outside of the study need to be clearly called out so unrealistic targets aren’t set.
  • What are the gaps? Gaps in information could affect the outcome and success of your study. There may be additional research required. For example, when studying price and how it affects customers’ decisions, tracking unfortunately gives limited insight. Other studies, such as trade-off analysis, are more effective at determining other aspects such as value-for-money.
  • How can we apply the research to the business? Implementing a tracking study successfully does not equate to success itself. Success is determined by what you do with the research to change a business, i.e. how are the metrics tracked and translated into operations and processes? To increase your odds and minimise risk, ensure you have a clear definition of what ultimate success looks like (overall and by business unit/level), and get buy-in. Most importantly, understand how staff members need to be supported and rewarded to achieve success.

In summary, the long-term success of a tracking study is largely a result of good set-up prior to starting research. Sadly, this initial qualitative phase is often overlooked and/or undervalued. It is here that the most rigour should be applied, as it forms the foundations for what (and how) ongoing performance is measured – and ultimately how the results can be used to influence change within an organisation.

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