GPI 187 – Financial statistics – tracking key indicators wisely and effectively.

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All companies have multiple key statistics that need to be monitored.  There are hundreds if you really look for them, but it is wise to keep the important listing down to a manageable number like 5 to 10 at any one time.  Pick the most important (i.e. Month-to-date actual sales versus month-to-date sales forecast, number of product failures per week or month, past due accounts receivable dollars, customers who have not repeated sales orders).  Whatever you decide to track, do it consistently and do it in front of everyone’s’ eyes every day. (i.e. daily email, charts up on a production board).

Here are some suggestions in general on tracking a key statistic you wish to improve. 

  1. Post a chart.  When you track something visually and post the chart on the wall first thing every day, people notice.  They notice this measurement is tracked and posted as soon as possible and someone is paying attention to this measurement.  A wonderful thing occurs with all this attention.
  2. Pay attention to the measurement every day.  Everything that is measured, tracked and watched will improve.  Whatever is being measured almost always improves because there is attention paid to the problem and people in general do not want to be involved in controversy or claims that they may not be doing their job.  They watch the chart and initially wonder if they are involved or not?
  3. Post an updated daily/ mark on the chart.  Post the results frequently for all to see.  If you can post new data every day, do it.  Keep the chart changing and showing progress or lagging behind.  Make it dynamic.
  4. No one wants attention drawn to them.  Since your chart is posted up in a spot open for all eyes to see, everyone knows it is being tracked and watched carefully.  No one wants attention drawn to them so they ensure they do their part in relationship to the improvement of this measurement.  This approach works, but please be very cautious about the statistic you track.  Pick one or a few that will have the most positive impact on your area or the firm.
  5. Review your data to ensure it is correct.  Question the source and test some of the data occasionally to be assured the chart is correct.  You want to audit this data a few times a week or so to ensure it is not corrupted or unintentionally wrong, misinterpreted or manipulated.
  6. Keep your efforts limited to only a select few statistics.  Select only a few items so that you can see progress made.  When you try to track too many items, none are watched.
  7. Too many items dilute everyone’s attention.  Pick the first two or three most important ones the company needs right now and start measuring them.
  8. Post the chart consistently.  Measure the item you select carefully and then post the resulting chart in a conspicuous place every day.  Make sure the chart is very clear about what it is tracking; label all data and define the subject of the chart.
  9. Mark up your chart.  Write comments on your charts to draw special attention to them.  When you handwrite something these days, everyone looks at it because people handwrite very little.  For example, if actual sales are behind the forecast line, highlight the gap in red.  It gets the viewer’s attention and will draw specific comments concerning progress or questions as to why a statistic is out of control.  You want participation.
  10. Make informative remarks on your chart.  Make what you write on your chart pertinent and important; inform the reader when things are going well or getting worse.  Tell the people the answer to that question because some of the people watching the chart every day will not know whether things are improving or worsening.  Be very clear and be instructive because some may have never understood charts in the first place.  Teach them through consistent posting and relevant comments.
  11. Who is involved in improving the chart results?  Ask who is responsible for this statistic and who can improve the results?  The most important thing you can do is start talking about it and discussing the importance of the results.
  12. Ask who is responsible for this statistic?  Begin asking questions as to why the statistic is bad and who is responsible.  Ask every day what employees think can be done to improve the result which is bad for the company and bad for everyone.
  13. Talk about good results every day.  Be positive and absolutely certain that this measured statistic will improve in the future.  When talking about the results of the chart, speak in glowing and optimistic terms of when the statistic is going to improve and wonder out loud who will be the guy who will accomplish this for the company.
  14. When progress is lagging, involve people.  Call different departments and mention the disappointing results to the attention of each department head.  At the same time ask him who he thinks will be helping to turn this statistic around for the company.
  15. Pursue questions of all involved.  Ask each manager to question their people and tell them you will follow up with them the next day because we need their help to improve this data by (you fill in the due date).  Everyone will soon know this is a serious issue and is not going away.
  16. Talk about the chart until it improves.  Some employees will work on improving the statistic simply so you will stop discussing it.  Employees do not want problems and will do what they can to avoid being involved with problems.
  17. Teach someone else to update a chart each business day.   Assign someone to add to and monitor a chart which tracks a relevant financial statistic for your firm. The chart needs to be maintained every workday and when data seems skewed, the assignee needs to follow up and investigate the cause, dip, decline or extraordinary jump. Sometimes these fluctuations will stem from others’ reporting errors.  Get others involved in tracking key company statistics and teach them to create a chart.

If you discuss a problem with your employees consistently, they will do what they can to eliminate that problem so you stop focusing on it.  The key is to be persistent and consistent in your approach.  Once the statistic improves, you want to be sure to reward those who performed well.

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