I recently blogged about goal setting and action planning – where to go and how to get there. But goals and action plans only take us so far – we have to do the right things to make progress. And then, as we are “doing”, how do we know that our progress is having the impact we desire? We must measure the right things to “move the needle” toward achieving our goal.

I recently ran across this Forbes article by Ruth Henderson (of Whiteboard Consulting Group, Inc.). She describes the relationship between measurement and accountability. She says, “When we set goals and measure performance against that goal we have the ability to hold ourselves (and others) accountable for the resulting success or failure. We actually have concrete data that shows us what we did or didn’t do, what the impact was, and what we need to do differently. Without accountability we can’t coach people towards success and growth, and we have a heck of a time meeting our overall targets…So is that all we have to do? Measure something and it will magically happen? Of course not. In addition to things like project planning, project management, and change management, there is this little matter of measuring the right things in the right way.”

In my experience, the key to progress is to measure two aspects.

1. We certainly want to measure the outcome (i.e. weight lost over time, sales of product, workplace injuries, etc.). This helps us see that we are progressing toward our goal (i.e. lose 10 pounds in 3 months, increase revenue by 20% each quarter, Target Zero workplace injuries by 2020, etc.). These are referred to as lagging measures, the results or outcomes of action taken.

2. The second aspect worth measuring are the behaviors required to achieve the goal (i.e. calories consumed/hours exercising each week, number of new leads generated, people wearing Personal Protective Equipment/number of near-misses identified, etc.). These are leading measures, those that can measure desired behaviors and help us determine whether we are doing the right things to move us toward our goal. Leading measures help us predict if we will achieve the goal.

The difference between the two is that a leading measure can influence change and a lagging measure can only record what has happened. We need both! We must measure the right things to “move the needle”!