Thirty years ago, when I joined the Nolan Company, we were known as an organization that measured performance. As the saying goes, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it”—and, certainly, you cannot evaluate the need for improvement. Measurement is the starting point for most meaningful improvement initiatives.

Putting a stake in the ground to understand each client’s current performance is part of the DNA of the Nolan Company. Our fact-based approach has not changed. We have added annual industry studies to generate meaningful comparative data to help management establish improvement targets and, in cases where more specific measures are required, we conduct flash surveys among like-sized organizations.

In banks and other financial services organizations, the measures that matter most help management understand the company’s:

  • Productivity (work volumes per employee per day/week/month);
  • Cycle time (the length of time between when a customer asks for a product or service and when it is completed);
  • Error rate (the ratio of work completed to rework);
  • Unit cost (the operating cost of the area performing the work compared to the volume of work completed);
  • Customer satisfaction (measured directly—through recorded complaints, customer surveys, or focus groups, or indirectly—through customer attrition and changes in call center service requirements); and
  • Sales volumes or achieved levels. It is important to concentrate on measures that matter, so we are careful to compare net new business in addition to top-line growth.

So how does a management team use the measures to make decisions? The line-of-business performance data establishes how any bank compares to like-sized and structured organizations. We collect and analyze measures from high-performing banks and average organizations alike so that management can see the potential for improvement. Initiatives can then be prioritized and specific goals can be set in real terms (for example, a reduction in error rate, cycle time, or unit cost or an increase in capacity or net new business).

The assigned improvement team can then examine its bank’s process measures to evaluate ideas for change. Measures help to advance the process objectives. This check in the creative process encourages the team to stay on task and work toward a common goal. A fact-based case can be constructed for recommendation. Upon approval, the implementation team uses the expected new measures as a check on their effectiveness.

Industry knowledge and measures that matter are indispensable to realizing substantial improvements and managing growth effectively.