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A couple of weeks ago I had a few moments to sit quietly and read the news – a rare event since my two (shortly to be three!) boys were born.

Usain Bolt had just dominated the athetlics world championships (again) and I came across this fantastic piece by David Rhodes* at the BBC.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34089451). In it he asks:

How does Usain Bolt run so fast?

Now if you give that some thought (and you haven’t clicked on the article) you might come up with the following answer:

“He must move his legs quicker than everyone else, thereby taking more strides and going faster than everyone else.”

But… he doesn’t.

Turns out that he doesn’t move his legs any quicker than others – the difference is that he takes longer and more powerful strides. So he actually takes less strides than others. An amateur runner averages between 50 and 55 steps to complete 100m sprint.

An elite sprinter takes around 45 steps.

Usain Bolt…? 41 steps.

What does this mean (other than Usain Bolt is awesome)?

It means that the quality of the stride is far more important than the speed of the legs. In fact, taking less strides is the key to success here.

Let’s think about how that relates to a process at work. We are fixated on measuring speed (how fast the legs are running) when really, the true measure of success is the quality of performance.

Hopefully, that doesn’t come as a shock to you. So why is this still the case?

Wander down to any operational part of your organisation and ask them how they are performing. I’m willing to bet you their answer will be based on some sort of service level performance.

  • We’ve answered 97% of calls today.
  • We’ve processed 174 accounts this week.
  • Our average processing time is 21 days at the moment.

Good for you. How well did you do any of those things?

  • What was the quality of service provided on those calls? Did you deliver to their needs?
  • Were those accounts processed accurately or will it lead to irate callers?
  • Of those applications you process, how many were right first time?

The reason we’re still focused on the wrong measures is simply because one is easy to measure and the other is much harder to measure.

Systems track volumes really well. It’s quantitative. If I said we answered 97% of calls, everyone immediately understands what I am talking about.

But systems don’t track qualitative data very well. It’s subjective. If I said our application quality was 62%, no one has a clue what that means without understanding the methodology used to measure quality. How was it scored, calibrated, repeated, sampled etc?

It’s the hard measures to track that are one the ones that ultimately have more meaning. Next time you’re in a position to look at operational performance, think about whether you’re looking at how fast the legs are moving, or if you are looking at the quality of the strides taken.

*With thanks to David Rhodes & the BBC.

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