How Transformational Leaders Can Understand What Matters Most and Measure It

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You need to know your “squats”…

Answer this question: If you were able to focus the attention and efforts of everyone on your team on one set of goals that would drive significant results for your company, what would you use as the one metric to measure progress? How would you know you were on the right track? What would be the rallying cry for your team?

Transformational leaders need a focused metric for progress: What are the “squats” for your organization?

A colleague who runs a large financial services company figured it out. He visited with the head athletic trainer of the Houston Texans and posed that same question, “What is the acid test for fitness?” The answer came back as a single word, “Squats.” The athletic trainer said, “If a player can squat twice his body weight, I know that the other aspects of training (cardio fitness, drills, discipline) are all in line.”

Seasoned leaders like that come to understand which measures reveal the most powerful indications of progress and health.

I believe that the same approach works for business. Transformational leaders—the ones who can make the biggest impact on forward momentum—know what to look for and know how to focus their colleagues on what matters most. They know the secret of the “squat” for their business—that single metric that proves they’re on exactly the right track.

I’m lucky. My life is spent walking through the doors of organizations in virtually every industry from consumer goods to technology to manufacturing to healthcare to energy, entertainment, hospitality, financial services, and nonprofit or government agencies. Over time, I’ve become convinced that every leader needs to master the skills that an outsider brings to capture the essence of the strategic equation:

  1. Create a movie trailer. Look at the company where you work with fresh eyes and challenge yourself to develop the equivalent of a movie trailer—a short synopsis of the plot of your organization. Synthesize the complexities of the important issues into a basic strategic story line that describes what it takes to hit the next level of progress.
  2. “Net up” your insights. Construct a single metric that reflects the impact of the core business drivers. How will you measure progress? What are the squats for your business?
  3. Develop a focused rallying cry to nail the squat. Connect the dots from the squats to the aspects of operations, marketing, product innovation, talent development and financial management that will drive most powerfully toward your goal.

The squat for business provides a powerful focal point to drive results.

Within the past few months, I’ve worked with teams who have defined their “squat” question in a variety of different ways:

Energy company: “At the end of the day, it’s all about a triple-A bond credit rating.”

Restaurant company: “We need to get our current guests to return to our restaurant one more time.”

Financial services company: “More than anything else, we need to increase penetration into our current book of business by 6%.”

Computer security company: “The focus needs to be on increasing the number of transactions that flow through our customers’ credit card purchases by 5%.”

Municipal government: “Increase the number of patents issued within the region by 33%.”

When leaders clear the clutter and stop to reflect on what it really takes to get to the next level of performance, they bring clarity to the process of transforming their organizations.

Better than mission statements, charters, visions, and tag lines, a single metric that is truly the main indicator of health can drive rallying cries to everyone in the organization as they figure out what they need to do to accelerate progress toward that metric.

I’ve experienced light bulb moments at every level of an organization once people understood what was required to hit the mark:

  • The driver of an 18-wheeler at a large food distribution company realized that he could preplan the load more efficiently to shave time off of his route.
  • The marketing director of a restaurant chain drove customer satisfaction scores right down to the ground level, focusing on how each server could get each guest (at every day part) to come one more time.
  • The head of manufacturing at a large chemical plant understood that asking a customer when they needed a shipment would result in less rework.
  • The manager of a technology company focused her attention on reducing the customer complaints on modem shipments, putting customer callbacks front and center of their attention.
  • A mayoral candidate built a dynamic plan for education into his platform to drive economic development in the region.

Transformational leaders at every level of an organization need to understand what matters most and how to measure it.

What are the “squats” for your organization?

This post is by Andrea Kates, author of the the bestselling business innovation book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge. Learn more about the book, review a sample chapter and more at Order Find Your Next now from Amazon.