A lot of twentieth century organizations have been almost exclusively focused on “results” at the expense of just about everything else. However, in the twenty first century where knowledge creation differentiates innovative companies, the algorithm for how metrics are “achieved” has become increasingly relevant. As the following analogy will illustrate, what the metrics reflect (i.e. how what they measure was created), not the numbers themselves may be the key to creating an organization that can continually evolve its capacity to create; including its own future!
I recently read a very significant book entitled Grain Brain (2013) by neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D. that offered a meaningful analogy to the point made here. Like beating expectations on the corporate level, most people with “normal” blood sugar levels (a decreasing part of western society) may mistakenly assume that this is a positive index of their health. But, as Dr. Perlmutter writes, “Your Blood sugar may be “normal,” but if you could peek into your pancreas, you might be aghast at how much it’s struggling to pump out enough insulin to keep you on an even keel.” You see, there is more than one way to produce normal fasting blood sugar levels. If you are not measuring fasting insulin at the same time, then you don’t know how this seemingly desirable result was achieved. Our pancreas may be keeping our blood sugar levels in the desirable range giving us short-term comfort, but unless we know how that result was achieved, we may remain unaware that something isn’t metabolically right until it cannot be reversed.
The analogy to corporate life is not too great a leap! How results are achieved and why a company exists is the “moral compass” that organizes energy and leads to meaningful contributions that are sustainable in the long run. Business books that write about culture, emotional intelligence, leadership, and other “soft” initiatives appear in ever greater numbers because it is now recognized that competitive advantage can no longer be achieved without addressing them.
But the point here applies to them as well. Why you are doing something may be as important as what you are doing. Alignment between management, workers, and customers is analogous to overall body health and can only be achieved if the entire enterprise is seamless and measures of progress are interdependent and focused on creation. Leaders that understand that are not only aware but wise. Those leaders know at a primal level that the functioning of the brain can never be separated from the health of the body.