Hate is a strong word. But I do hate seeing averages used as KPIs. The problem is they are so prevalent. The only practice more prevalent is reporting on raw totals: We did this much in sales, we worked this many hours, etc. etc. (See my Key Performance Indicators PDF for a set of great examples.) Averages are terrible:
One. There are better KPIs that communicate more meaningful information.
Two. You can be taken advantage of when you rely on averages.
I asked a girl for her number. She was clearly out of my league and she let me know it. I responded that she was acting like a ten when she was clearly a seven. She agreed! Then she started in on herself about how she needed a nose job. Her error? Only comparing herself to other models (not all women). She blew her nose out of proportion (double pun intended). I got her number (And didn't use it). The lesson. Don't be taken advantage of.
There are better options.
Out of a group of two-hundred KPIs, I have researched the seven top KPIs for Professional Service firms. None of the seven are from taking averages. Six of them are ratios (and the seventh can be). Isn't that interesting. So what is so great about ratios?
Ratios reveal trends and makes large numbers easier to digest.
Ratios provide indicators of organizational performance.
Ratios allow me to compare apples to oranges.
First, ratios can be confusing because we were never taught to use ratios in a professional setting. We learned basic fractions. A half or a quarter is an intuitive number. I know what that looks like. I can imagine a pie which gives a fraction meaning. But if a ratio comes out to be 1.09, that is not intuitive. Is it 109%? 92%? Or something else all together?
Comment below on which you think is right?
Second, not every ratio is great. But the great ones compare two opposing metrics. Let's look at one of my top seven Professional Services KPIs. Revenue Per Employee. If you are in business then revenue is a positive. More revenue is better. More people isn't necessarily better. This ratio reflects the sensitivity between these two metrics. More revenue will drive the ratio up. More employees will drive it down. More employees will only drive the ratio up if synergies increase revenue at a greater rate. This ratio simplifies the relationship between revenue and employees down to a number. It also lets me compare two companies that are drastically different in terms of size and revenue.
Third. When I first started learning KPIs I spent a lot of time memorizing definitions. I tried to wrap my head around them. It was hard. I re-learned grade school fractions on Khan Academy because I thought it would help. It didn't. The memorization didn't either. For every new KPI I had to memorize a new definition. Don't waste time memorizing definitions!
There is a better way.
In my next blog I am going to teach you a very simple visual aid that has helped me break down ratios so I don't have to memorize definitions. Subscribe to my blog so you do not miss it! You might as well pick up my Key Performance Indicators PDF as well. It's free!
I'm shooting to have it out in about a week.
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