What Do You Measure?


I wear a Garmin heart rate monitor watch that measures a vast array of activity metrics.  The home screen displays an activity monitor that counts the number of steps I take each day with a goal of 10,000.  The screen changes color once I reach my daily goal and offers a satisfying sense of accomplishment.  This weekend I exposed a flaw in measuring my performance indicators.  I rode my bike for 5-hours exploring the Wasatch Mountains in Utah on Saturday and by days end I was far short of reaching my step goal, but I burned over 3,000 calories on the ride.  Then on Sunday, I rode my horse on the trails in Idaho.  The counter recorded 13,000 steps by 11 AM, the vast majority were equine generated.  I was getting the benefit of Cricket’s efforts and my numbers were highly inflated.


We have numerous tools to measure our progress.  High Schools use college placement lists to demonstrate academic rigor.  Art Centers showcase the number of children who visit their education programs.  Homeless shelters share the number of individuals housed each night.  The critical deliberation is deciding what to measure.  If I measure my total activity time I get a different result than monitoring steps, however, I miss quantifying the intensity of my workout.  I can employ a Train Stress Score but then I may be tempted to divert from my recovery day workout which would score very low (despite being highly effective) to achieve a higher score.  If measrement drives activity then we are choosing speed over experience.

Simon Sinek reminds us, ‘Great leaders are willing to sacrifice the numbers to save the people. Poor leaders sacrifice the people to save the numbers.’  If we remember that we need human-centered strategies then measurement become organic.  If we are doing the work that matters we will find creative and flexible ways to quantify our impact.

What are you measuring?

One comment

  1. My Fitbit also cheerfully acknowledged my horses’ steps as mine. That’s the only day I had more than 20K steps! But then, the muscles involved in horseback riding are fairly holistic and complex, so I gave myself credit for a highly active and healthy day!

    However, your post does raise a great question, and causes me to bring up another. What do you count, and what do you count AND take credit for? In statistical analysis, we learn to be aware of confounding or spurious variables. To know that our actions may be correlated, but that relationship may be weak or strong. And from my view, we can influence outcomes with our actions and services, but we should take great care before asserting that we have directly caused a desired outcome. Fascinating stuff!

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