Your business isn’t all about the numbers. The numbers are all about your business.

There is a general spoken and unspoken idea that businesses are all about “the numbers.” I’d like to suggest an alternate idea:

Your business isn’t all about the numbers. The numbers are all about your business.

Businesses who focus on numbers can easily end up privileging short-term profits over long-term sustainability, employee productivity over engagement, and exploitation of existing products/processes rather than innovation. These actions can end up undermining the organizational strategy, and even the overall mission. Rather than serving as the ends–what the business is all about–the numbers (and qualitative metrics [4] [5] [6] as well) need to be used as a means to measure of how well the organization is achieving both its short-term and long-term strategic goals, and ultimately how well the mission is being accomplished.

Enron’s mission statement reportedly centered on the principles of respect, integrity, communication and excellence. [1]  Their “numbers” were fantastic for years, but their illegal, unethical tactics were completely undermining those principles.

I have found some evidence that one of Kenneth Cole’s slogans is “What you stand for is more important than what you stand in,” [2] which doesn’t seem well-supported by their recent marketing mistake. Some have suggested that the best measure of the damage of this mistake is sales numbers. In other words, if their sales numbers do not drop as a result, then the marketing mistake was nothing to worry about. But i would suggest that  even if those numbers rise, the organization may be losing in less immediate and arguably more important long-term metrics like employee morale, brand trust, partner and vendor trust, etc.

So which way does your arrow point? Is your business all about the numbers, or are your numbers about your business?

[1] Building a Winning Salesforce: Powerful Strategies for Driving High Performance, p. 186
[2] Kenneth Cole slogan: http://www.fashionmission.nl/fashion_label_category_k_kenneth_cole-0004030007.dfs
[3] Kenneth Cole mission statement: http://www.slideshare.net/wilsonhkong/kcportfolio-466245
[4] Triple bottom line: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_bottom_line
[5] Relational business: http://www.relationshipsglobal.net/Web/Default.aspx
[6] The Balanced Scorecard includes financial and non-financial, short and long-term metrics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balanced_scorecard

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