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New metrics for a new era

These performance indicators go deeper to measure business success

By Alex Salkever

  • Evolving business goals need new metrics to measure success 
  • New metrics use real‑time data for more immediate feedback
  • Pulse polls, quality time can help keep workers happy and productive

Every company has metrics that help it track and measure progress. But as the factors that make a company successful evolve, its goals shift. And so should its metrics.

Unfortunately, performance analytics can be obscure and complicated, making it hard for executives to find the measures that best point to success.

Here’s a look at four new metrics—on customer satisfaction, worker engagement, diversity, and productivity—that can help companies track progress towards their goals.

Pulse polls

Are your employees engaged at work? Answering that question is a key measure of business health, and one that HR departments try to tackle through periodic surveys. There’s a lot at stake: One‑third of all U.S. workers say they’re unengaged in their current job, while 51% are actively looking for their next gig, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report.



The trouble is, the view of engagement captured by traditional surveys can be misleading or fail to capture key dynamics. Employee responses to surveys are easily swayed by mood, recent developments, or even the time of day.

Some companies are starting to replace these legacy engagement surveys with more frequent check‑ins—through web or mobile apps—to capture what’s called “employee voice.” Some use apps, such as CultureAmp or Hyphen, to take “pulse polls,” prompting employees to rate their level of engagement each day and include comments for managers. Some tools go further by gamifying the experience. Motivosity links participation to small cash prizes for micro‑achievements.

“This allows the supervisor to closely track trends over time, and catch issues before they become problems,” says Jacqueline Ackerman, partner at human capital management consultancy Vantage Leadership.

Going deep on diversity

In recent years, diversity and inclusion have become top priorities for many businesses, and for good reason. A growing pile of evidence shows that company diversity across racial and gender lines is correlated with stronger financial performance.

To track progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, companies are adding custom metrics such as the inclusion rating, which combines 24 different measures including the percentage of female board members, whether a company offers flexible work hours, and how much training each employee receives.

The goal is to gain a broad understanding of whether a company is structured to support an employee base with a range of backgrounds. “HR leaders should not only measure whether diverse candidates are coming in the door, but how minority vs. non‑minority groups feel in the workplace,” says Ackerman. “This is important for their ability to succeed and thrive.”

Since many organizations now dedicate considerable resources to hiring for diversity, they have a vested interest in retaining diverse candidates. A variety of tools, including pulse‑poll apps, onboarding playbooks, and mentorship programs, can help track this nuanced metric.

Quality time

Quantity of meaningful work is another emerging metric. It’s based on the theory that more difficult and creative tasks require uninterrupted time.

As business process automation and AI tools take on more and more mundane tasks, distinctly human skills like creativity, ideation, and strategic planning become even more important. This is the logical extension of “No Meeting Fridays,” but with a new twist: Companies can now capture data directly and use AI to analyze how much time an employee sets aside for uninterrupted work, and whether they might need help from a manager to protect their time and space.

Microsoft Workplace Analytics, for instance, analyzes employees’ calendars, email, and communications channels to learn what the most productive workers do. The tool “shines a light on how the organization collaborates and spends time,” says Ryan Fuller, Microsoft’s general manager of workplace analytics. “It turns this digital exhaust, the data that comes naturally from our everyday work, into a set of behavioral metrics that can be used to understand what’s going on in an organization.”

The system can recommend whether individuals need to carve out more focus time, or spend more time collaborating with coworkers. Part of a nascent category called people analytics, the platform also analyzes how often workers have one‑on‑one meetings with managers, quantity and quality of time spent in meetings, how many hours they spend doing focused work, how quickly they reply to email (and how quickly their coworkers reply), and who they collaborate with the most during the week.



Customer sentiment

The Net Promoter Score, or NPS, has served as a workhorse metrics for years. NPS simply asks how likely customers would be to recommend a product or service to a friend. Its versatility and simplicity gave it staying power.

But that same simplicity is working against it in some industries. NPS is “limited in the information it can actually convey,” says Neil Bendle, associate professor of marketing at the University of Western Ontario Ivey Business School.

While NPS remains a useful broad‑brush indicator, companies in retail and other industries are adding more detailed metrics, such as “willingness to shop.” This asks a more revealing question: How willing would a customer be to drive to another store to purchase a product that’s out of stock?

The new measure gives companies “a really clear indication of loyalty and how important a product is to someone,” says Bendle. Consumer goods brands, for instance, could use the data to drive better deals with retailers. Retailers could also use it to “better understand what parts of its product mix are the most valuable.”

Alex Salkever is the co‑author, with Vivek Wadhwa, of “The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future." He writes frequently about disruptive business technologies and artificial intelligence.

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