Cross-post: How Do We Measure Success?

  • By Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, September 16, 2019

Thoughts on Soccer Goals, Social Impact, and Surgical Errors

This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn page of Dr. Scott Heimlich, vice president of the Amgen Foundation. To read the complete post, please visit the original post.

This question is so fundamental, and yet too often it’s not even asked by those funding and working towards social impact.

We assume it was asked and answered by someone else at some earlier time, or that this initiative with its holistic approach to the whole person can’t be reduced to a single or even set of metrics. Or maybe it’s that we simply don’t have the time and resources to build that data-driven culture that allows us to adjust our strategy and actions based on whether our indicators of success are flashing green or red.

Let me give a simple, personal example of a soccer team I coached a few years back. If you measured success for those seven-year-old girls based on how many games we won (the traditional metric of success in youth sports, even for younger children), then I failed miserably as a coach as I think we managed to win a single game all season. If you measured success by how many of those girls enjoyed soccer and coming out to compete and play as a team every week – and ultimately how many chose to return to our recreational team the next season after only winning one game – then one could argue I was successful.

You can’t make the argument one way or the other though without answering the question as to why you signed up your daughter for soccer in the first place – what is the purpose of her being on that field?

It all starts with what you’re trying to achieve. To what end? For your nonprofit or team, for your foundation or funding initiative or program – what are you doing, and why? Then how are you defining success? And then how are you measuring that?

Now I do strongly agree with the maxim from William Bruce Cameron that not everything that can be counted counts, and that not everything that counts can be counted.

But there is a definite role for embedding a data-driven culture into our systems, organizations, programs, practices and teams at all levels, allowing for a strong continuous flow of information between our goals, strategies, desired outcomes and shorter-term indicators. This type of culture ensures everyone is focused on the north star for your organization, but just as importantly it allows an organization to stay nimble, to adapt, and to learn. A learning organization allows for the same flow of information as our veins and arteries allow for the blood that courses through our body, where a blockage anywhere can be just as harmful.

Head over to the original post to continue reading.