People, Not Metrics

“Technology is about people, not metrics”.
Jane Ruffino

Margins, growth, conversion, retention, Return On Investment, time spent…sound familiar? In your work you’re most likely accustomed to seeing metrics in some form or the other. Metrics measure our performance. As humans, we crave goals, and metrics are an excellent way to set up objectives for ourselves. But are they hindering us? Are we relying too much on numbers? Are we forgetting about the people behind the numbers?

In Simon Sinek’s latest book “Why Leaders Eat Last”, he uses the term “abstraction” to point out how numbers, such as metrics, make human connections more abstract. As companies have dramatically grown in size and become more transnational in their nature, we have started to lose touch with our employees and customers by relying too much on digits.

“When our relationships with customers or employees become abstract concepts, we naturally pursue the most tangible thing we can see — the metrics”.

We have a hard time empathizing with a number. Think about this: if you read a news story about a statistic or a news story about a person from your neighborhood, which one will most likely resonate with you?

Numbers don’t tell a story. They give a one-sided view of our realities.

“This is one of the shortcomings of using numbers to represent people. At some point, the numbers lose their connection to the people and become just numbers, void of meaning”.

So, how can we bring more meaning to our numbers?

Invite Customers
As an antidote to our numbers-focus, Mr. Sinek urges us simply to talk to people to hear their stories.

An example he mentions is from Wells Fargo. At one of their loan departments, a customer was invited to the office to describe how a loan had changed their life. By simply telling his or her story, it had a dramatic effect on the motivation of the employees.

“Without necessarily being aware of it, many of the employees stopped coming to work to sell loans and started coming to work to help people”.
“…we are naturally cooperative animals that are biologically more inspired and motivated when we know we are helping others”.

Feature Their Stories
Kiva, a crowd-funding platform to help entrepreneurs in developing countries, features stories about all of their entrepreneurs on their website. By reading about the entrepreneur’s motivation for taking a loan, their daily life and family situation, our attention is grabbed. Storytelling brings life to numbers.

Make Them Tangible
charity: water, as mentioned in the book, applies a similar approach. As you donate to the charity, you receive a photograph and the GPS coordinates to the well you funded.

“We are visually oriented animals. We can pursue things we can see”.

If we can’t physically see the lives we are affecting, we need tangible details that resonate with us.

The moment we are able to make tangible that which had previously been a study or a chart, the moment a statistic or a poll becomes a real living person, the moment abstract concepts are understood to have human consequences, is the moment our ability to solve problems and innovate becomes remarkable.
— Simon Sinek

Next time you find yourself relying too much on metrics, find the story behind your numbers. Bring life to your numbers by making them tangible. Try to remember that behind every metric, there is a person.