Check Your Six: Practical Measures of Workplace Success
“If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.” — Jim Rohn
Even after a century of constant refinement, flying an airplane remains a hazardous occupation. Pilots must pay constant attention to altitude, direction, speed, and potential obstacles. This holds true whether they can see for a hundred miles, or no farther than the cockpit’s windshield.
So how do pilots maintain contact with reality when they can see nothing but clouds? By flying with instruments—a requirement every pilot must master before soloing. They monitor compass, altimeter, horizon indicator, speedometer, and a dozen other instruments, while using radio and radar to check their positions.
Managers have a lot in common with pilots. You’re flying the team plane on a tactical mission toward your organizational goals; it’s a long way down if you fall; you can’t always see clearly where you’re going; and it’s potentially hazardous if you fail. So you too have to pay constant attention to your course, making every effort to pierce the fog between you and your goals. As my father (a retired Air Force colonel) taught me when I learned to drive, “Always check your six.”
In piloting parlance, “six” represents the area directly behind you, assuming a horizontal clock with 12 o’clock immediately ahead. My father meant for me to be aware of my environment and what was going on around me, not just what was immediately in front of me.
You have to check your six at work, too, and keep an eye on the environment, the past, and what’s looming on the horizon. Although the business equivalents of piloting instruments rarely operate in real-time, keeping an eye on what I call the “Check Six Measures” can help you maintain appropriate levels of accountability and clarity as move your team toward its final destination. Here are the six business flight instruments that will help you check your position:
1. Cashflow. These two syllables can mean the life or death of an organization. Many entrepreneurs view business as a game, with money as the means of keeping score—a simplistic viewpoint—but a sensible one. Consider your cashflow your altimeter. How high are you flying? Does income exceed outgo by an ample margin? If not, is that your engine you hear sputtering…?
2. Budget and Schedule. How efficiently do your employees do their jobs? Is group workflow so smooth and orderly that everyone turns in their work on schedule or sooner? Do you complete your projects on or under budget? After all, you’ve got to reach your destination on time at a reasonable price.
3. Quality of Work. Even if your other readings look great, you can still run into a mountain if you drift off course. Who cares if you consistently weigh in under schedule and budget if your output stinks?
4. Hours Worked Per Process. Labor probably represents your biggest input cost. Assuming your organization pays its workers a fixed salary rather than by the hour, you can always meet budget and schedule by working long hours. But overworking people presents its own butcher’s bill. Would you trust your life to a pilot expected to fly 16 hours straight for ten days in a row?
5. Customer Satisfaction. This “instrument” works equally well whether your customer base consists of millions of people or only a handful of C-Suite execs. Your bosses will surely let you know if you fail to meet their expectations; the general public may not be so responsive. However, you can force a reading of this metric by circulating surveys among your customers. Do they want to continue flying with you?
6. Return on Investment. ROI acts as the speedometer of your workplace cockpit, and ties the rest of your metrics together. How healthy is your ROI? Now, don’t confuse tactics with strategy here. As a result of achieving the goal metrics laid out in the bonus plan, how is that going to impact the bottom line? Are you paying out more than you’ll save? Be sure to keep everything well maintained; don’t cut corners to the quick just to save a buck. And never grab for the brass ring at the expense of the gold one that waits just a bit farther along.
The Final Analysis
The Check Six Measures I’ve outlined above aren’t the only ways to determine whether you and your employees have succeeded in executing your organizational strategy, but they offer a good place to start. Once you’ve got them in place and have a good idea of your overall situation, you can then add and subtract specific metrics as conditions require.
Have a nice flight—and don’t forget to check your six!