We often think of metrics as straight-forward, devoid of ambivalence, bias or misinterpretation, but you know better: Data can take on new meanings depending on how it’s presented, or by whom.

One leader, for instance, may view metrics as all that matters and lose sight of the people or service excellence components. Another may only care about dollars saved, no matter the cost. The best leaders, however, take care to read into the context and ramifications behind the numbers, where value and metrics meet.
The reality is that, even without ill intent, numbers can be manipulated to paint different pictures. Or, they can lead you down the wrong path if your data is incomplete, or the industry benchmark you’re following isn’t a good fit for your particular organization.

Obviously, you need to know work is getting done in an efficient manner, but don’t forget about your people, nor the value to internal customers. It’s no good, for example, to nail 90% productivity if your team is miserable, problems are mounting elsewhere, and those metrics blow up in your face down the line because you failed to probe what’s going on behind those numbers.

One facility director we’ve worked with asked his people to communicate, no matter what the subject, three things as succinctly as possible:
1. What did you do?
2. What are you doing now?
3. What are you focused on next? 

He found that by including these items in all discussions enabled him to capture the right context, disarm most issues or angst coming from his team. “It’s a very open discussion,” he explained, “and it enables us to re-prioritize, course-correct and counter frustration as we go.”

“If you just report the metrics, you could become blind to people issues,” he continued. “If you just focus on people, things can become squishy and less about providing a service.”

 When in doubt, it’s wise to ask “What if?” to explore the consequences of taking a different route. “What if we stopped doing this? What happens if we delay this repair? What if we took option B?” (We cover that in more depth in our “Wasteful or Essential?” article, right here.)
The takeaway? There’s no one-size-fits-all model for how hospitals should manage their performance metrics, of course, or even which metrics to prioritize. The key is to make sure you’re probing numbers beyond the obvious to learn what they mean in the real world. Simple advice, yes, but not simplistic.
Next time someone hands you a KPI report, be mindful that a great opportunity or revelation may be hiding behind it—if you just ask.