The KPI.org Blog

Translation Please

By: Gail Stout Perry

I am absolutely addicted to the television show, “Big Bang Theory.”  Have you seen it?  I catch myself laughing out loud at it...even when watching it on planes (yes, that’s a little embarrassing). People who are fluent in the language of math and science are actually bilingual.  And that’s what I love about the quirky characters on Big Bang Theory. They not only understand how to string words and punctuation together to form sentences and paragraphs that communicate meaning, but they also know how to string numbers and symbols together to form equations that communicate meaning.  And when someone is fluent in both, sometimes they slip back and forth between the two languages and things get comical.
I’ve already admitted that I am a geek, so let me give you an example from my own life. When I was in college, I had to go over to the business building to take a class.  As I sat down and prepared for class to start, I noticed something carved into the top of the desk.  It was a calculus equation.  When read aloud using the literal “word” meaning versus the “math” meaning, the equation said:  “The limit (e.g., cannot go any further) of an Engineering Student when his calculus GPA approaches Zero is a transfer to the College of Business”. I laughed out loud.  Several of my friends had recently transferred out of engineering and into business. I can only imagine which one scrawled this equation on the desk.  Or how many students had looked at it and not understood that it was a funny message. 

Understanding that math is actually a language is a very important concept for developing meaningful performance measures for your organization.  Some people are fluent in the language of business. Others are fluent in the language of math and statistics.  Few, it seems, are fluent in both. 
We’ve found that whenever an organization is struggling to develop KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), it is most often due to a “language barrier” in translating from the strategic intent of the business (words and sentences) to meaningful measures of performance (numbers and equations).
And there is actually a very simple solution. In the Institute's Nine-Step-To-Success™ framework, we use something called “intended results”. These brief written statements are the “Rosetta stone” for translating the “in plain English” strategic intent of an objective into a meaningful measure that can be used for strategic performance analysis.  

To learn more, check out Chapter 10 of The Institute Way or join us for an upcoming training course. We’ll show you how to crack the code and move fluidly between both languages.