Ask a business leader to describe their most critical KPIs — the collection of those “things” by which they keep score and evaluate performance — and you are likely to hear the importance of EBITDA, working capital, gross margin, market share growth and so on. Some leaders take it step further and highlight customer satisfaction, process quality or transformation, employee engagement, and so on.

No argument that these examples are well-intended and potentially results-oriented. Data and analytic teams have improved organizational “input collection” to create cutting edge business intelligence, considered table stakes in today’s macro-digital economy.

However, these conversations also unearth concerns and key questions that are the center of disruption:

Is my organization measuring the right things?

Where are we relative to others on the intel continuum? 

Is it possible that “business intelligence” is no longer a differentiator? 

What if we no longer know how to measure in this Future of Work landscape?

What’s become clear in this omni-channel, continually connected, data-rich world, is that what we need to measure has changed. As such, we need to be careful to not stay in a measurement world based on old business paradigms. Instead, we need to shift to measure what was previously immeasurable, re-imagine tried-and-true approaches, and evolve how we think about KPIs and their ability to drive decisions in this new macro. And we must recalibrate the people behavior/analyses connections that are hard coded in our assumptions. Science has elevated our understanding of the human condition while data creation (in all forms from code to unstructured) is unlocking deeper and exciting insights.

Related Reading: EX, A Catalyst For Future of Work

I recently enjoyed a fascinating conversation with Nic Marks, world renown statistician and “happiness specialist.” Nic may be best known for his work developing the Happy Planet Index and his views on workplace wellbeing. He represents so much of what the modern KPI world is all about, specifically with regards to how he helps organizations that struggle with workforce engagement. Before I unpack his perspective, it’s important to consider the macro pressures and mega trends that are forever disrupting the business world and how we measure.

For example, it is now abundantly evident that customer acquisition, retention and engagement have never been more dependent on the alignment between cross-functional teams, from Sales to Marketing to Product. And yet there is a real fissure occurring at the most fragile and critical integration point… with a customer.

Studies show that only 13% of today’s global workforce is engaged in their work, according to Gallup. What that tells us statistically is that the majority of employees on the front lines feel out of alignment with the company and view the workplace negatively. This reality effectively triggers organization-wide programs intended to improve client experience and value creation via improving employee satisfaction and other culture-based initiatives — historically viewed as “squishy” and difficult to accurately measure.

Or is it?

Human behavioral science in general suggests a different approach when it comes to moving the needle related to work engagement. As the theory goes, traditional and top-down initiatives aimed at measuring and improving cultural dimensions are often met with workforce skepticism — meaning that “corporate’s” goal is to drive more. More production, more activity, more everything. This well-intended but antiquated approach works against the very foundation of achieving trust and ultimately higher engagement levels.

I loved learning about how this cycle inspired Nic to create The Happiness KPI™, perhaps the future of people metrics in the workplace. Nic brings simplicity and elegance to what has been an elusive dynamic in business for decades. A pivot away from the notion of engagement and an emphasis on the very thing that people (humans) can self-assess innately — happiness — ultimately creates engagement improvement action.

As Nic describes: “When an organization focuses on happiness, it builds trust with their employees, signaling that they are interested in the individual, not just what they can produce.” And what’s more, happiness as a metric (and emotion) is conceptually easy for all of us to grasp and surprisingly easy measure.

This isn’t just theory. There are layers of science supporting this notion. Studies show that “happy” companies outperform their competitors. But the real superpower comes from how organizations apply and assess the metric within teams.

Tracking happiness trends and feedback loops at the team level, versus enterprise, creates visibility and is actionable for leads and the team overall. Nic’s view is that happiness is as much between us as it is in us. Empower your teams to learn and adapt to the needs of the team and their teammates, and you will unlock powerful change agents that influence other teams and the organization overall.

Nic’s views on wellness in the workplace is a powerful example of data meets humanity, simplistically innovative.

As leaders it is vital that we continue to:

  1. Rethink the pursuit of data as the goal. Step back and ask… is the data we are gathering ultimately actionable?
  2. Remember when examining culture and people, that engagement is a buzzword and, therefore, requires further definition. It can also be viewed as an output, which in turn creates space to consider the human drivers that create the output… such as happiness.
  3. Challenge your views of what is or isn’t measurable.

In the coming weeks, I am going to dive into some of the newest metrics that should be top of mind for all leaders, and the powerful way human ingenuity and tech are coming together to allow us to truly measure anything. Stay tuned!