How metrics can be a driving force


Published on: September 2014

Written by: Scott Weighart

I seem to lack a gene common to most men—the one that makes you fascinated with cars.  For most of my life, I’ve been pretty indifferent to them.  If they have four wheels, an engine, and aren’t likely to explode upon impact, that’s been good enough for me.

But now things have changed.  Last month we decided to replace our aging car, which seemed to be on the brink of expensive repairs.  Due to my lack of interest in cars, I left the whole issue of researching and buying or leasing a car to my wife.  However, I did tell her I was a big fan of Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, so why not check out a Ford?

She ended up leasing a Ford Fusion Energi, which is a plug-in hybrid.  Before I drove it, I’m embarrassed to say that I knew very little about hybrids beyond the fact that they apparently use less gas.  And I hadn’t paid much attention to how cars have changed over the last five or ten years.  So it’s been educational and really kind of a blast to drive this new car.

What struck me almost immediately is how much data I am getting every time I drive this car.  When I turn it on, I usually see that I have 20 miles worth of electric charge to use before it switches over to gas.  My round-trip commute is just about 20 miles, so I figured that most days I could use no gas at all.

That didn’t happen the first few days.  Why not?  It was all in the data.  Every time I hit the brakes in this car, I get instant feedback on how efficiently I brought the car to a halt.  If I hit them too fast, I might get a rating of 72% efficiency.  But if I did it just right, 100% was definitely possible.  I needed to get better.

Then there was accelerating and coasting.  My ratings weren’t too good on either front.  But what if I made a conscious effort to coast going down hills or when anticipating a red light?  That would have to help.

I also noticed that the battery capacity dwindled really fast if I cranked the A/C.  That was another opportunity for improvement.

So after driving for decades, it was really surprising to see how quickly I chose to change my driving behavior.  And it worked!  I’m now recapturing so much energy as I drive that I make the round trip with a good three miles of battery left.  And it’s been really satisfying to watch my miles-per-gallon data climb every day.  It’s over 87 MPG now, and I really think I can get it over 100 MPG if I keep doing what I’m doing.  Woo-hoo!

What this brought home to me is how easy it is to underrate the power of having timely, specific, actionable metrics.   Although I’m pretty ignorant about cars, it’s not as if I never knew that I could save gas by accelerating more slowly, coasting more, and braking more gently.   But I never had any good data that kept me informed on how I was doing from one drive to the next.

As a leader, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of good metrics as a motivational tool.  If your people have solid, timely information on how their effort leads to performance—and how that performance is linked to the company’s mission, vision, and goals—then they have that much more incentive to make adjustments and strive for improvement.

I always knew that Alan Mulally had done a great job to change how Ford used metrics.  But I never imagined that one of his cars would change how I view them.

So at long last I’m really fascinated by a car.  If you ask my wife, the only downside is that I’m not giving her much of a chance to drive this one.

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