Act on lead measures to reach your goal

Act on lead measures to reach your goal

Imagine that you are pursuing a specific strategy to achieve a specific goal.  Your progress and your success will be based on two kinds of measures: lag and lead.  Lag measures are the tracking measurements of your goal and this is what most people actually focus on.  Examples of lag measures include revenue, profit, market share or customer satisfaction, for instance.  This is typical of lag measures: the moment that you have a view on them, the performance that drove them is already in the past.  That’s why many people are relying on ‘hope’: they hope that the lag measures will be positive because they cannot fix them anymore.  It’s history. 

Lead measures are substantially different.  And why?  They are the measures of the most high-impact actions your team must take to reach the goal.  Essentially, these lead measures measure the new behaviours that will drive success on the lag measures.  Those behaviours can be as simple as offering a sample to customers or as complex as respecting the standards for the design of a jet-engine. 

Basic characteristics of a lead measure
A good lead measure has two basic characteristics: on the one hand, it’s predictive of achieving a goal and, on the other hand, it can be influenced by the team members.  Let me illustrate these two characteristics with a simple example: the goal of losing weight.  The lag measure is fairly clear: the number of kilos lost (so the number you will see on the scale).  The lead measures could be a specific limit on calories intake per day and a specific number of physical exercise per week.  These lead measures are predictive.  And why?  Because by performing to them, you can predict what the scale (indeed, the lag measure) will tell you after 7 days.  These lead measures are influenceable because both of these behaviours (calorie intake & exercise) are within your control.  

A lead measure foretells the result. It’s influenceable and it’s predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure will also change.

Let me add another obvious example.  Can you control how often your car will break down on the road (a lag measure)?  No, you can’t.  But you can definitely control how often your car receives routine maintenance (a lead measure).  So the more you act on the lead measure, the more likely you are to avoid that your car will break down.  

Fixating on the lag measures fails to drive results 
The whole point of this is that acting on the lead measures is what you should do to reach your goal.  However, there are leaders who are so focused on lag measures that the discipline to focus on the lead measures is sometimes lost.  Of course, it goes without saying that lag measures are ultimately the most important things you are trying to accomplish.  However, lead measures – indeed true to their name – are what will get you to the lag measures.  Once you have identified your lead measures, they become the key leverage points for achieving your goal. 

So while a lag measure tells you if you have achieved the goal, a lead measure will tell you if you are likely to achieve that goal.  Moreover, a lead measure is within your control.  Unfortunately, most leaders focus too much on lag measures, even though they cannot be directly affected: sales leaders fixate on total sales, quality manager focus on customer satisfaction, parents focus on children’s grades, etc.  So in virtually every case, fixating on the lag measures fails to drive results.  

Whatever your goal is for this week, ask yourself the question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the lead measures?"
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