Some people's strengths are easily quantified: production managers manufacture inventory on time and under budget, salespeople achieve their sales targets, CEOs deliver a growing top and bottom line — or they don't. But not all skills or strengths are so readily gauged. If you can't measure it, you'll have a harder time putting a price on it. No price tag, no getting paid what you're worth.
Let's look at a few examples:
The Op-Ed Project trains women to write op-eds (because women currently don't submit to key opinion forums with anywhere near the frequency that men do) and more broadly, to take on the role of thought leadership in their fields. Founder Katie Orenstein could measure success by the number of women who have taken the course. Or the number of op-ed pieces those women have published. But are these the metrics that measure the full value of the services rendered by the Op-Ed Project? And if not, what metric does?
An author recently shared with me that, after submitting a book proposal, the publisher did a quick review of his social media platforms, saw that the author had only 3,000 Twitter followers, and concluded that he's an online lightweight. Was this the best metric for forecasting book sales?
What if you are a middle manager at a large corporation? The classic incentive measures for senior executives at publicly-traded companies (as disclosed in the proxy statement) are EBITDA, net income, EPS, and cash flow. These metrics often become the default metrics for gauging the performance of middle management. Are there better ways to get at the scope of a middle manager's contribution?
More importantly, what is the metric that measures what you do well?
To answer that question, consider Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics General Manager. Despite being one of the poorest teams, the A's became one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball when Beane took the helm. As Michael Lewis chronicles in his book (and soon-to-be movie) Moneyball, the cash-strapped Beane reframed the game by recasting how he measured performance.
When the A's acquired MLB relief pitcher Chad Bradford from the White Sox, Bradford's standard pitching metrics were respectable, but his fastball came in at 81-85 mph, and he looked funny when he threw — the scouts made fun of him. But because the A's thought about measurement more comprehensively than the other teams, Beane knew Bradford was a steal.
According to Lewis, "Chad Bradford gave up his share of hits per balls in play, but, more than any pitcher in baseball, they were ground ball hits. His minor league ground ball to fly ball ratio was 5:1. The big league average was more like 1.1: 1. Ground balls were not only hard to hit over the wall; they were hard to hit for doubles and triples." Bradford eventually signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
We can apply this example to our businesses and careers.
If our best skill isn't easily measured, then we need to be our own Billy Beane and find innovative ways to measure what we do best. Once we've identified our best skills, and figured out how to measure them, we are well on our way to maximizing our value.
In the case of the Op-ed Project, measuring success currently includes whether a piece has been placed. Where it is placed is a also factor — print media may not be worth what it once was, but an op-ed in the New York Times continues to have tremendous cachet. But we can go even further. Beyond the cachet, an op-ed in a prestigious publication is bankable; buying that space would cost tens of thousands of dollars. With the metric of paid advertising in mind, what is the right enrollment fee for the Op-Ed project? If you are a business or university whose U.S. News or BusinessWeek rankings improve because you now have more well-regarded thought leaders, thanks to the training offered by the Op-Ed Project, what is that worth to an institution, in monetary terms? Not to mention the possible positive social consequences of engaging in the public debate.
Take the author/thought leader trying to convince a publisher of his potential audience. Rather than looking at the number of Twitter followers, focus on who the followers are. Be specific. Cite the ten followers who are responsible for corporate engagement at X,Y or Z Fortune 100 companies. Explain that a speaking gig at one of these companies can result in a bulk sale of 2,000 books. Examining a straightforward metric — number of Twitter followers — in a creative way allows for a truer measure of potential success.
As for middle managers, forward-thinking companies are finding ways to better measure and therefore further incentivize these key players. According to Stacey Petrey, Global Director of Compensation, HRIS, and Payroll at Perrigo, "there are additional categories/metrics by which to measure performance. Here are just three: 1) Talent Developer — tally the number of team members for whom a manager has brokered a move into other areas of the organization; 2) Innovator — did they create an environment that fosters innovation as evidenced by the number of ideas generated by their team; 3) Value Integrator (a manager who analyzes and synthesizes information and turns it into a competitive asset) — count, for example, how many cash management strategies came from their division? The number of M&A points of integration? Or, how many Lean or Six Sigma initiatives were successfully implemented?"
Because headline metrics rarely tell the whole story, you need to find the metrics that do, whether running a business or managing your career. That's what conflict negotiation and mediation teaches — whenever you walk into any negotiation you need to know how to value what you are bringing to the table, to put a price tag on it. Getting paid what you are worth is ultimately a negotiation. When you can identify your disruptive or best skills, and then present metrics that establish your value (creating them if need be), you can communicate your value. Are you ready to play some moneyball?