Thoughts on Leadership: Scorekeeping for Success

This week my travels find me in Northern California, working and taking time to recharge after a whirlwind week in Las Vegas for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. The theme for this year’s event was ALL IN and as we now begin to entwine that phrase into our businesses and lives, one question comes to mind: How can we really know when we’re ALL IN?

It’s a qualitative statement that can be measured quantitatively, as should any initiative we adopt to help achieve our goals. When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.

That statement, known as Pearson’s Law, forms the basis for a fascinating book by Charles A. Coonradt and Lee Benson called “Scorekeeping for Success.” Over the course of his decades-long career, Coonradt has worked with many Fortune 500 firms, coaching more than one million executives, managers and supervisors.

In the introduction, he writes: “We are attracted to that which motivates us, that which identifies our goals and that which gives us a clear indication of how we’re progressing.”

Scorekeeping – the strategic tracking of goal-attainment – creates a system for tapping into the intrinsic predilections of human nature that increases productivity and helps achieve measurable success. However, scorekeeping is a nuanced art. The “what” and “how” of it can sometimes be even more important than the “why.”

“Only when we successfully transform our measuring into something tangible, relevant and meaningful do we allow management by measurement to really take off,” Coonradt writes. “That transformation is called scorekeeping.” He argues while we can commit fully—go ALL IN—on our business efforts, there really is no such thing as all of a sudden in business. Trends develop over time; small wins turn into large accomplishments. Things move at a cadence that matches steady and habitual progress. (This rhythm, Coonradt says, is as it should be; a sudden swing in either direction is oftentimes unsustainable.)

Here are five additional takeaways from “Scorekeeping for Success” that I found particularly impactful:

  1. Coonradt differentiates between traditional measurement and scorekeeping. “The major difference between scorekeeping and measurement is that scorekeeping, by nature, is a positive process while measurement, by nature, is a negative one.” Coonradt uses sports analogies to explain that when we keep score in a game, we track our wins—how many passes were completed, how many baskets were made—and when we measure, we track our losses. He says from a small age, we’re measured by negative standards. A young child attempting to ride a rollercoaster who measures just a few inches too short understands the inherent negativity of measurement. He writes: “By tracking the positive, scorekeeping stimulates and prods us to do more of the same.”
  2. The Wall Street Journal created perhaps the most famous example of successful scorekeeping, ever. Charles Henry Dow and Edward David Jones—a journalist and an investment banker, respectively—started a newsletter on Wall Street in 1882 called Customer’s Afternoon Letter. They soon turned that regular communication into The Wall Street Journal and then, along with journalist Charles Bergstresser, founded Dow Jones & Company to “make sense of the confusion” of stocks. The system they enacted in 1884 was substantive, compelling and averaged the worth of 11 stocks to determine the state of the stock market. Today, the Dow is a trusted scorekeeping system that quantifies how the market is doing, which can boost investor confidence through clear metrics for tracking success.
  3. A good scorekeeping system needs good, productive feedback. Simply receiving reports and scanning them over briefly, as Coonradt explains, is not productive feedback. Feedback must be delivered “in the most effective and valuable way available” to increase the success of the scorekeeping system. Managers must take an interest in any scorekeeping system that’s enacted, encouraging his or her players to not only participate but also use the metrics outlined to win. Also, when the feedback arrives at frequent intervals, team members will readily understand exactly what it is they need to improve on and why.
  4. A scorekeeping system needs a scoreboard. “We need a scorecard that accurately measures our performance against our predetermined goals and destinations,” Coonradt writes. It’s one thing to be organized and prioritize tasks; it’s another to have a readily available scoreboard that tracks progress. If we’re going to keep score, we need a system for continually gauging progress.
  5. Remember, a scorekeeping system is only as good as its coach. As a leader, it’s our job to motivate and encourage team players to achieve the metrics being tracked. Make it simple—Coonradt suggests keeping score on the top five things an employee can do to benefit a company—and make it positive. Effective and enthusiastic coaching, he says, “is THE ingredient that not only makes scorekeeping necessary, but that makes it work.”

So, what’s the message? Success isn’t just a word we use to describe a state of positive professional accomplishment. It’s a measurable term that we can break down into quantifiable, trackable tasks so we can keep score of our affirmative attributes and accolades as we continue to find new and better ways to win.

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