June 7


Why does everyone need a number?

According to my FitBit my average resting heart rate is 51.

Yes, I know this is a business blog. But bear with me. There is an important business-related point and I’ll get there (eventually).

My main health indicator had been my percentage body fat from the bathroom scales (a truly useless measure it turns out).

Then my son gave me his Fitbit when he went to Uni last year. And I found something called resting heart rate.

Curious, I did some research, and found it's a great overall measure of wellbeing and fitness. Keeping it low means that you're usually doing well on the four pillars of health:

  • Sleeping regularly, for long enough, and in the right ‘zones’
  • Exercising enough
  • Keeping your stress at an acceptable level
  • Keeping your weight and body fat within a sensible range

Apparently, the average for most people is somewhere between 60 to 100, so I was well pleased with my score.

But the real value is tracking the trends (see last month’s graph to right)...when I see the Number rising it immediately makes me question what’s happening. 

And I start to look at other measures like number of steps, sleep time and type, minutes active, floors climbed etc. And use that information to do take action to get back on track.

Resting heartrate has become my Health Number, but so what?

The suprising truth about having a Number

According to Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory, one of the key drivers of self-motivation is Competence: “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently”.

And the reason that Competence is important is because we all want to feel a sense of accomplishment in what we do.

Whilst you may not have heard of Deci & Ryan, you may have heard about Dan Pink’s book “The surprising truth about what motivates us”, which tells a very similar story.

And the research shows that having a Number easily available, tracking it, and reviewing it regularly helps people feel good about themselves, helps build their self-motivation, and causes them to act to improve things.  

It’s a huge part of why RunKeeper, Strava, FitBit and other apps have grown so popular in recent years.

And the same applies in business.  

Whilst the context is different, the psychology, the desire to see that you are progressing or accomplishing, is the same for nearly everyone in your business.

So, if you want to help grow your company faster and be more profitable, you should make sure everyone in your business has a Number.  

Yes, EVERYONE should have a NUMBER.

How do you give Everyone a Number?

To get the most value and benefit from a Number you must do it right. Whilst that may sound like a statement of the blindingly obvious and simple common sense, it isn't, in my experience, common practice.

To make sure the Number is driving the right results, it should be:

  1. Clear how it fits with, and supports delivery of, the business strategy and objectives
  2. Directly related to the role
  3. Directly measuring the successful outcome you want to achieve
  4. Clear what a ‘good score’ is
  5. Within their capability to change it through their own actions
  6. Measured as frequently as possible (which obviously depends on the role)
  7. Easily available and visible to all
  8. Used to celebrate success and improvements

What about using it to hold people to account, I hear you say? Make sure they’re doing their job?

Well, the beauty of using the Number as suggested above is:

  • People usually hold themselves to account because of:
    • Personal pride and satisfaction in doing the job well
    • Peer pressure and not wanting to look bad or let the team down
    • A desire to avoid a performance improvement conversation
  • It's easier to have performance improvement conversations, as it is obvious from the number, for you and them, that something’s not going to plan

Seem too good to be true?

A little example for you….

The key economic indicator in a start-up I own with some friends is profit per kg sold. (See Good to Great by Jim Collins for more information on key economic indicators).

This number rolls down to the production supervisor as contribution margin per kg purchased, and to the production team as labour time per kg packed.

We explained the Number to our production supervisor and how it contributed to the big number and explained where we needed it to be to be profitable. In turn, he explained to the team the importance of labour time per kg packed.

On his own initiative, our supervisor led the overhaul the end to end production process. He asked us to change the raw material we were sourcing and how it was delivered to us. With the help of his production team he redesigned the workflow and workbenches, and the process for grading and boxing product. (We’re too small yet to have any production machinery).

The team started to calculate their labour time per kg packed twice daily to help keep them on track.

They get a hit beating their previous best score and pi**ed if they fall below their baseline objective.

They’re always looking for ways to squeeze time from the process. They asked one member of the team to leave because they didn’t feel that person was pulling their weight and was stopping them hitting the number they wanted.

For the avoidance of doubt, we didn’t mandate what was required of them, and we didn’t re-design the processes. We simply said:

“Here’s the Number. Here’s why it’s important. This is where we need to get it to. How might we do that?”

And we let them get on with it, helping and supporting as needed.

The result?

Our direct labour time per kg packed has reduced by 67% since we introduced the Number.

In other words, the team is THREE times as productive in May as they were in February.

I recommend you make sure EVERYONE in the business has Their Number.

Give me a shout if you’re not sure where to begin - see below for how to do that.


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