Managing By the Numbers Alone

It’s easy to fall into the trap of leading and managing by the numbers. The objective numbers are real, concrete, unassailable. If goal was $1,000,000 and only $825,000 was achieved, there is a measurable gap of $175,000. Similarly, if the goal is 40 phone calls a day, a report showing that one made only 27 calls is objective proof they didn’t hit their number. But to lead and manage from this place is to misunderstand both leadership and management. It’s to abdicate your responsibility in both areas, and it is to miss the real picture, one that can only be found by broadening your view of results and how you generate them.

The fact that you missed goal by $175,000 is a statement of fact. That fact, however, doesn’t explain why the person or team missed their goal. You need to open your aperture quite a bit wider to understand what you are seeing and what you need to change.

If an individual misses their goal, managers and leaders often look first to activity, that being the easiest of all choices—and also the one that eliminates any responsibility on their part. In this view, the person should have simply worker harder, which may be true—or may be a partial truth. The real deficit may have the root cause of a lack of effectiveness, something more difficult to identify and correct. To see effectiveness issues, you have to observe the individual when they are working, and to correct effectiveness issues you have to be skilled in helping people change and gain new competencies.

To get the best view of the cause of a poor performance, you have to look deeper, getting past the objective evidence to look at more difficult and subjective truths.

  • What does the individual believe about their goal? Do they believe it is arbitrary and unfair? Do they believe their territory doesn’t support that goal or that they lack an offering that would get them there? Are their beliefs limiting the results?
  • Did the person have a plan that should have allowed to reach goal? Did they execute their plan effectively? Are they equipped to reach those goals?
  • Does the individual know what they want, why they want it, and how it contributes to the life they want for themselves and their people? Do they have a source of motivation, something or someone they are working for?
  • Was their performance impacted by the people around them? Does the culture support them in reaching their goals, or is it an obstacle? Are they surrounded by negativity, cynicism, fear, or disempowered thinking?
  • Did the processes in place serve them? Were the tools available to them creating the right effect when they came in contact with clients and competitors, providing them with a competitive advantage?
  • Has the main thing they are supposed to changed so often they are no longer sure what to do?

The score on the scoreboard is always right. It always reflects how well—or how poorly—you are playing the game. What it doesn’t tell you is in what areas you are playing the game poorly, nor does it tell you why each individual on your team may not be playing the game well enough to win and succeed. The numbers tell you “what,” but they don’t tell you “why” without a deeper look into the inputs, which are always human beings.

In the end, the numbers are a reflection of your leadership, which means leading people is a better and more effective choice than managing by the numbers.

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