KPIs. OKRs. Do your measurements have a soul?

Measure measure measure. If you aren’t measuring what you are building then you are running blind and foolish. While it is key to measure according to your goals, it is important to keep the soul and purpose at the heart of why you are measuring, and how far you are willing to go.

Bad Baidu

I hate it when companies trick their users. You should respect them, and I don’t like it when companies that show a lack of respect are financially rewarded. I always hope that karma will come around.

It is in this spirit that I was frustrated to see the bad practice that Baidu exhibited in changing the text of their browser to show up higher in the Intent picker list for browsing the Web. Not only did they add a leading space to get to the top (as did CM! The chinese browser wars are truly insane) but they also added “n(Recommended)”. Cheeky buggers.

I imagine some folks at the office giggling and watching a bump in some metric due to this act. It isn’t a new one either. Some of us remember the companies named “AAAAAA Plumber” in the yellow pages. I never used to call them either, and felt sad that they named their company in such a silly manner.

It probably works though. Else, why would people do it? It must at least have the perception of working ☺

This is a somewhat silly microcosm that reminded me why we need regulation. Market forces don’t have a heart. If your only focus is a series of metrics, you are destined to go after the up and to the right tactics. Increasingly, we have the ability to use computing power to run analyzes and change behavior in real-time. This means that it is doubly important to know what you are aiming for as there will be less opportunity for a human to be a filter.

This is why I dislike the notion that we should allow the market to be in charge of offering our healthcare or education services. These are areas that we need to really take a look at.

Think before you metric

If done right, you can choose metrics that are “win win”. You can also structure the “how” that goes with the “what” to make sure that your values aren’t undermined (the “how” can be seen as your own internal regulation of sorts). How far are you willing to go? Is there a way to balance the metrics, so they aren’t all about short term financial impact, but also about long term customer satisfaction.

This is really hard. It is so easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are doing the right thing, and get weaselly.

How Google Works

A good example that comes to mind is from How Google Works. There is a section of the book that talks about how you don’t have to always have a plan on how you are going to make money doing X, and that you can sometimes go with a gut feeling that “we will work it out”.

This somewhat goes against Peter Theil’s views on the importance of “having a plan”, but the devil is in the details. If you have AdWords, you can afford to work out some other things later 😉

One of the examples given was that of Keyhole. Google bought the Boulder company but had no real thoughts on how to monetize it. Google Earth was given away for free, and then the “a ha!” moment happened. They bundled Google Toolbar. Users of toolbar made more money for Google (due to their increased usage) so Earth became a trojan horse.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not a huge fan of bundling. When you purchase “A” you often don’t really love seeing “B” show up. We went there with Windows, remember? Ugh. One of the legacies of Steve Jobs is the desire to not sell off the customer experience for some quick money like this.

What was fascinating was that the book spun the bundling as a good thing for customers:

“If our customers were downloading Google Earth they will probably like Google Toolbar”

Oh right! You are helping! So kind of you! Now, I am sure that there were some customers that appreciated this, but come on ☺ I also remember some shady features of toolbar, and then there were the deals with companies to bundle toolbar elsewhere.

If you drink enough kool-aid and think that your company has such a great purpose then you can fall for the “it is a means to an end!” trick.

Meditating on purpose

Your purpose is important though (as long as you don’t fall for the trick), and a great purpose can root the path to objectives and then the results that you measure.

Justin Rosenstein just gave a great short talk on this very subject at a recent Web Summit:

He discusses the importance of Clarity, and how the primary function of a leader is to provide clarity to your team.

He then goes on to discuss the Why, How, and Who threw the lens of clarity:

Clarity of Purpose (Why)

It is hard for a sane and happy person to work on something that doesn’t clearly impact the world in a positive way.

Can you answer the following for your company?

  • Why does your company exist?
  • If it is wildly successful how will the world be different than it otherwise would have been?

Clarity of Plan (How)

What is worse than having no purpose? Having a great one but no plan on how to bring it to the world!

To build the plan at Asana they map a “Master Strategy” for the top level pilars of the company and then map from that plan to various key results (that can be measured), which then are broken down to actionable tasks.

Clarity of Responsibility (Who)

There needs to be a clear owner of objectives and areas, that cascade all the way down. Your job as the DRI isn’t to mandate the how, but to mandate the outcome and trust your people enough to work out good solutions.

If you don’t trust them? You need to replace them, but don’t meddle!

All in all it has me thinking a lot about the yin and the yang of your purpose, and balancing the “how” in a way that keeps you on track, but not in an unethical manner.

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