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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Skinny Jeans and the New Math

By Gail Stout Perry

I am an engineer by training and a math geek at heart.  So articles about girls and math catch my eye.  Did you know that researchers agree that one’s ability to excel at math and science is as much about attitude as it is about “natural gifts” or gender?  This affirms my own less-than-scientific research findings.  I have a daughter and from her earliest years, I showed her how to apply math to everyday activities (baking was our favorite hands-on lesson, of course).  And anytime friends of hers would complain about how hard math was, I’d make them all stand up and shout, “Girls ROCK at math!!!”   It’s all about the attitude.   Of course, I had a good role model for this. My father showed me how fun math was when I was a child as we built motors together and played around with electronics...scribbling equations and schematics as we went.  I never feared math and science...they were FUN!  

In my work life, I’ve discovered that dread of math, especially statistics, is widespread in the business community.   So let’s tackle something fun:  the concept of correlation.

When developing performance measures in business, we sometimes face a stumbling block in that the thing we desire most to measure is, unfortunately, impossible to measure directly.  So, we have to look for a “proxy” measure that is correlated.

Let me illustrate with an example from daily life.  Let’s say I want to know if I am maintaining my ideal weight versus gaining weight.  It’s easy to measure that directly - hop on the bathroom scale.  But, unfortunately, I can’t.  I travel constantly so I do not have a bathroom scale with me most days. 

So I have a correlate that I measure.  I always carry the same pair of skinny jeans with me.  As long as the jeans will button, I am fairly certain of what the bathroom scale might say, if I had one.  The fit of my jeans is correlated to my weight.   Now, a statistician will remind us that “correlation does not equal causation.”  This simply means is that I need to consider that other things may be causing my jeans not to fit – for example, maybe they shrunk in the wash.  But understanding this, I am reasonably certain that they are a good proxy measure while on the road.

See how easy it was to master two important concepts for measuring performance in business - Direct Measure and Correlated Measure?  It’s all about the attitude!!

To learn much, much more about how to develop meaningful performance measures, we invite you to explore The Institute Way or join us at an upcoming training course.

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Gail Stout Perry

Gail Stout PerryGail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Other posts by Gail Stout Perry

Contact author Full biography

Full biography

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations. She served as a Senior Associate with BSI from 2008 until 2016.

Gail became interested in operations, efficiency and patterns as a toddler struggling to participate in her mother’s kitchen.

“I tried to explain to my mother how to better organize her kitchen. She was wasting motion plus the kitchen wasn’t user friendly to me, its newest user who could not reach the things I needed to be self-sufficient—so, she had to help me. Mom could have saved herself work if she’d accepted my recommendations.”

During her career in aerospace and defense, Gail developed deep experience in operations, finance/accounting, information technology, human resources, purchasing/inventory management, manufacturing, engineering design, and sales and marketing. Today she consults with Fortune 500 companies, large military commands, government agencies and nonprofits.

“My diverse experience helps me be a better consultant by bringing new ideas and solutions to my clients when I see a connection or pattern to something I’ve experienced or observed in another industry/sector. There are common denominators, operations and issues across organizations. Just last month, I heard the same operational issue from a Fortune 150 and a city municipality—two organizations that couldn’t be more different.”

With clients in diverse sectors all over the globe, Gail’s adept at quickly understanding business models and cultural norms, and creating a positive impact. Prior to joining the Institute, Gail owned and operated Perry Consulting LLC, a North Texas firm focused on providing performance improvement consulting services to the nonprofit sector. It was in this role that she first realized the transformational power of an integrated strategic balanced scorecard while working with her client, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to improve its strategic planning, performance management, budgeting, and employee alignment processes.

“I’ve learned how to quickly absorb information and get my head around an organization, what it does, how it does it, its key processes and challenges, and learn its unique culture and language. And I have a way of explaining things that makes the seemingly complex simple.”

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