Magic Numbers: A Few Key Indicators Can Predict Success


Whether an organization succeeds or fails is typically not that complicated, according to a Governing columnist. John Bernard writes that a few numbers, or even a single one, are often leading indicators. Measuring and closely managing these are essential processes.

The nature of organizational work is that certain work really matters, and if we do that work well, other areas of our work also will benefit. What we measure is what we manage, so finding the right measures to drive the right behavior is among the most important work leaders do.

In working with the leadership teams of state agencies in Oregon and Washington over the past few years, it has become obvious to me that certain numbers, measures or other indicators really drive or predict others.

For the Washington States Department of Retirement Systems, which manages retirement programs for most governmental entities in the state, the most important driver is the accuracy of member data. When the data is accurate (for such items as compensation and years of service), many other things then go smoothly. But when the data is inaccurate, it means extra work, confusion, delays and, in the worst case, the risk of a member making a retirement decision based on erroneous information.

By the time a worker retires, all discrepancies have to be resolved. And, the cleanup of old inaccuracies can create a significant challenge in getting those benefits rolling. "We rely on the data we get from 1,300-plus public employers in the state," explains DRS Deputy Director Marcie Frost, "but we must do everything in our power to make sure the data we receive is accurate and complete."

While member accuracy is key for DRS, the Oregon Youth Authority has its own special number: the percentage of youth who have been in the corrections agency’s custody who have a positive mentor outside of incarceration. Because external mentors dramatically reduce the odds that a young man or woman released from the penal system will end up back behind bars, finding good mentors is key for youth to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

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