“In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count, like customer satisfaction and performance … you thrive on that.” –Bill Gates
In September of 1999, after traveling 416 million miles, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter fired its thrusters, laying a course to orbit the Red Planet. Fifteen days later, the $327.6 million project burned as it hit the Martian atmosphere at an incorrect altitude and angle for a safe descent to the planet’s surface. An investigation into this catastrophic crash found that despite the scores of literal rocket scientists who worked on the probe, everyone had overlooked a single mission element that caused the crash. A piece of software supplied by a subcontractor was written using English measurements, and NASA’s software ran on the metric system. The software worked together perfectly, but the discrepancy in the two methods of measurement gave ground crews inaccurate data that caused the Mars Climate Orbiter to crash.
As a business leader, you must gauge performance based on measurable results. The trend of professionally living and dying by pivot-table-driven metrics has become a popular method to monitor team performance. A team’s efforts to “hit the numbers” may not always align with attaining profitable goals. Are we measuring the right things, interpreting that data correctly, and communicating the results to our associates effectively and productively? Dig into those numbers with your team and find out their interpretation of the data.
Had the two Mars Climate Orbiter teams been on the same page with their measurements, the tens of thousands of man-hours that went into mission prep would have given NASA scientists years of atmospheric data to analyze. As is, the Mars Climate Orbiter landed on Martian soil as a molten heap of slag and rubble. Understanding how your set of accountability metrics affects your team could mean the difference between success and underperformance.
Metrics Matter!: Accelerators
- What drives the economic engine of your business, organization, or work group?
- What metrics do you review on a regular basis and how are they connected to these key drivers? Do you need to adjust the things you measure on a regular basis?
- In what ways could you involve your team in the collection, interpretation, and action planning about your performance metrics?
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide.” He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor and Innovation Junkie, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas. Jeff helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at InnovationJunkie.com.