The Fastest Way to Spot a Problem

It’s that time of the year when most of us begin evaluating how well we did this year as we begin (or complete) our planning for next year. So, how do you get you and your team focused on the critical issues that need to be fixed/addressed in order to make next year better than this year?

Over the years, with both my own organizations and with clients, I’ve tried a number of different options but the absolute best way I’ve found to do this is with … a graphical representation of key numbers. Why? Because numbers always tell a story. And because the greatest number of people are visual learners, nothing seems to beat a visual representation of those key numbers/metrics.

Now, which numbers you use (usually in a month by month format) is up to you and should be based on what business you’re in.

  • Revenue
  • Expenses
  • Revenue vs. Expenses
  • Projected over actual
  • Number of new customers/clients/attendees
  • Number of new leads
  • Number of qualified prospects in the funnel
  • Number of referrals
  • Number of sales
  • Attendance
  • Transactional size
  • Conversion rates
  • Last year vs. this year, etc.

You choose what numbers are relevant, but the key is to CHART your key numbers (i.e. lists and tables just don’t work as well) AND THEN ask this question,

“What story do these numbers tell us?”

That’s the key question. Use it exactly. Why? Because numbers always tell a story. Note: this isn’t a blame game exercise to discover who screwed up. Rather using numbers makes it easier to get everyone focused on reality vs. opinion. And when you and your team see the numbers visually represented for the year, everyone will be able to see where the problems are.

  • In August, there was a huge dip in ______. What story is that telling us?
  • Normally in March we grow. This year we didn’t. What story is that telling us?
  • Our conversion rates in the spring were high, in the fall they were low. What story is that telling us?

The beauty of the chart is that it gets people past the normal self-protection smokescreen. Something happened. What was it? And why did it happen?

For example, if you remember the video I did on Leader Draft (note: if you haven’t seen it, I’ve added it below), you’ll remember that one spring the church I led at the time flatlined during a time when we normally grew. In fact, if you were to look at the attendance graph from my former church you would notice that it’s the only time in 15 1/2 years that we didn’t grow in the spring. Hello! That’s a pattern. You can see it clearly. There’s a story there. And it was noticing that pattern that drove to the discovery of leader draft (and the realization that I was the problem. I was burned out and it was affecting the whole organization). Once the problem was identified, I could fix it and we got back on a growth curve.

That’s the beauty of graphing a key metric for a planning session. Everyone can see it clearly. No one can hide (including the owner/senior leader). We were going up, now we’re not. Why? What’s causing that?

Or if you’re wondering why you’re not growing, what if you had read my recent post on quadrupling your sales (you can read it by clicking here) and decided to graph the number of leads you followed up (or the number of leads who had received 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, or 20+ follow ups). You would be able to quickly see why you aren’t growing. It would be right there, in multiple colors, for all to see.

Now, I’m not naive in thinking that you’ve never heard of graphing :-). My only question is, “Are you doing it?” Are you creating and using graphs each month (why wait until the end of the year)? And are you using them during your annual planning sessions?

If you’re not, start today. Make your key numbers all visual (remember, lists and tables don’t work as well). And then ask the key question, “What story do these numbers tell us?”

To your accelerated success,

P.S. If you’re a solopreneur or service professional on your own, the same principle applies. Just ask yourself the key question.

P.P.S. If you’ve found some other short cut ways to get a team of people to discover where their problems lie, share your ideas below in the comments section (or click here if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed)

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