Swamped By Metrics?

By Simon Hartley, Founder of Be World Class.

Do you find yourself swamped by metrics? Recently I have seen both corporate and sports organisations that have a massive amount of data, but they don’t really know how to make sense of it. Over time, it seems, they have gradually accumulated more and more metrics. They continually seem to find something else to measure and report. As the number of measures and metrics grows, they seem to lose sight of the truly important and very powerful numbers; it seems that they just can’t see the wood for the trees.

During the last few months, I’ve been working with a number of senior leadership teams, both in sport and business. Often our aim is to simplify and clarify what they do, to sharpen their focus and make them more effective. I use a process that I first developed whilst working with an international swimmer, called ‘the Two Lengths of the Pool’. This rather unusual term was coined when the swimmer, Chris, and I finally understood that his job was simply to swim two lengths of a swimming pool as fast as he could… and that was it (we never claimed to be particularly bright). Once we realised this, we also set about understanding what the most important and significant elements of his performance were. What was it that had the greatest impact on his ability to swim two lengths of the pool as fast as he could? We called the top five elements his “5 Keys”.

It’s not rocket science, I know!

The first of Chris’ ‘5 Keys’ was “Fast start”. This meant that we wanted the shortest possible time between the gun firing and Chris reaching the 15 meter mark. In total, we worked for 5-6 years to knock just 0.3 seconds off of his start. During that time, we obviously needed to assess Chris progress. We needed some metrics!

As you can imagine, there are a huge number of things that we could measure. At one point, Chris went to Eastern Europe to get his dive analysed by a world guru. He came back with data on the take-off angle, entry angle, time in the air, time in the water, the power he transferred into the starting blocks, and much much more. What do you do with all that data?

Our first job was to understand how all these metrics fitted together. There was a hierarchy. Some were ‘headline’ metrics, such as Chris’ time to 15 meters. Then, there were metrics that fed into that, such as the time in the air and time underwater. We knew that there were more metrics that then contributed to each of these. For example, Chris’ body angle in the water (such the angle of his hips) affected his streamlining, the drag and therefore his time underwater. We started to break them down to understand where each of them fitted and also, which were most and least important to us.

As well as understanding the importance of each of the metrics, we also needed to make them useful to Chris. When he first looked at the analysis he said, “it’s all very well knowing that I need to take off the blocks at 45 degrees, but what does 45 degrees feel like?” It’s a great question. Chris will only be able to make changes to his performance if he has some experiential understanding of it. How does this number relate to what I do? How does it look, sound and feel? How do I know, in any given moment, whether I am delivering the performance I want or not? To make the number useful, Chris needed to know what 44 and 46 degrees felt like, as well as 45. With that understanding he can monitor his own performance constantly.

One afternoon, Chris dived into the pool during one of his training sessions. I asked him, “how did that feel?” He told me that he could feel his big toe sticking out by a couple of degrees and that he could feel the drag coming off of it; therefore he wasn’t entirely streamlined. When we looked at the video and analysed his body position, he was absolutely right.

We used this approach to help Chris Cook progress from being a fairly average regional level swimmer, to becoming a double Olympian, Olympic finalist and double Commonwealth gold medallist.

Do you know your “Two Lengths of the Pool”, or your “5 Keys”, and how your metrics relate to them?

Are you focused on the most important elements, i.e. the ones that have the greatest impact on your performance?

Are your metrics aligned and structured? Do you know how they feed into each other?

Do you and your team know how the metrics relate to their performance in any given moment?

Find out how you can adopt this simple approach, by reading “Two Lengths of the Pool