Every organization reports and analyzes on averages and benchmarks. The end goal is to improve these metrics, but focusing on the average is less useful than exposing actuals for driving the desired outcome.

Reluctant managers focus on process rather than the conversation. Averages are typically hotly debated. Often managers seek harmony and want to be liked. Quality performance conversations require courage to understand the information at a granularity that can be acted upon.

Reluctant managers focus on process rather than the conversation. Averages are typically hotly debated. Managers often have an excuse for every variance: they don’t trust the numbers, they have other numbers, or it was another dependency in the organization.

A senior executive of a services firm observed, “If utilization rates are down 10% then there’s a reason, something we didn’t think of that lets them off of the hook. In fact, I realized, the reason that they are managers is because they’re smart people who have learned to finely hone their skill for argument and debate. They are managers because they always have a reason for why their numbers are off the mark. They wouldn’t have gotten this far into the ranks of the organization otherwise. And because of this, arguing about averages and benchmarks is a battle you just can’t win.”

Actuals are hard to debate. Actuals allow you to explore more deeply into the underlying project, work order, or transaction behind a metric. Actuals help to distinguish between false positives and real problems. If there is a one-off job that is obscuring the average, it can be distinguished from the employee who has 20 jobs that still haven’t been billed to the customer. When there is a debate, actuals help to provide insight into the story behind a number. And those stories are instructive of the behaviors, process gaps, and system challenges that need improvement.

Change behaviors to drive outcomes. Quantitative metrics do very little to predict sustainability, but they can give a snapshot of what is happening at a given point in time. Behavior change is more important to assess sustainability of change. Report in actuals and you’ll see that you not only impact your averages and benchmarks, but you get better and more accurate engagement from the individuals contributing to your reporting.

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