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On Analysis, Happiness and Satisfaction


“I get the figures, but I’m just not that happy” – so said the Engineer customer to me recently when we were discussing a range of issues impacting on him and his business.  His three-plus decades of professional training and practice have been based around detailed analysis of numbers and formulae.  Very clinical, very precise and, to his mind, now very wrong.

Sure, he can outline margin, profitability, ROI and all sorts of easily measurable results.  Some years they are up, some years they are down.  That’s business – and he knows that.  He knows why his margin has dropped, he understands why the ROI sits where it sits and he can detail precisely his asset utilisation rates.  Perfect.

But not.

He is able to rationalise all this based around the numbers, however the answer he is getting from undertaking this process isn’t the one he is looking for.  It’s not that he’s asking the wrong question, he is looking in the wrong spot for the answer – because it is where he has always looked.

As we delved further into his thinking, we started getting into the “why” questions and that “what” drivers.  I found it very sad that his answer to the question “when was the last time you drove into the office really looking forward to the day ahead” was “never”.  How soul destroying!

The process many people adopt in reviewing their position and opportunities tend to revolve around the same approaches they have taken in the past.  They tend to adopt the same metrics to analyse and assess their “success” each month, quarter, half-year or year.  The results are a scoreboard which tends to drive how they “feel” about their performance.

Success Quote

My experience has been that having assessments which are based on metrics that don’t resonate with satisfaction or happiness tend to be low-value.

For example, as I discussed in a recent podcast I did with the guys from Grow My Accounting Practice in the US, the feeling of being “happy” or “satisfied” rarely has anything to do with hard, numerically-based metrics.  Satisfaction comes from achieving things that mean something to you.  Sure, I acknowledge that there are metrics that can inform this, but you’re unlikely to have the feeling of deep satisfaction purely based on a margin improvement!

When we bring up kids, we don’t measure our success or failure as parents based on their academic scores.  To do so removes the focus from where (I believe) it should be.  You cannot objectively measure the things that really matter in your role as a parent.  I know from the various posts I see on social media that when people post things about their kids, they aren’t about their test results.  They are about instances where the kid has demonstrated care, concern and love.  Not getting into a heavy theoretical/philosophical discussion here, but how do you measure love?  And what, exactly, is a “good kid”?

In talking through the issues with my customer, we covered a lot of ground which had to do with his thinking about and approaches to what actually mattered in his life.  His concerns were around his family, his kids’ education and his staff.  Hard to objectively measure.

As he indicated to me during the conversation, he finds it difficult to assess how the really important things are going in his life but can be really precise about the looking-backwards results and his forward budgeting.  Once he has done his budget, they try their level best to achieve it, but, given the industry he operates in, it is difficult to drive additional revenue or improve margin by “throwing things at them”.  And, at the end of the day, the results the business achieves are only relevant in so far as they enable him to do the things outside of his business that are important to him.

Focus on business yes, but realise that it is only a stepping stone/tool to fund the important things that you want to achieve.  Of course we want to make sure our businesses operate well, but is that the end game?  My argument is that it’s not.

After a very enjoyable meal and nice bottle of red wine, we decided that he would spend some time thinking about the things that really mattered to him and where he could increase his level of satisfaction.  He is going to gain a better idea as to what he does and work out the things he loves doing.  This will then inform our planning as to what he keeps doing and what he stops doing.

The analysis process he had adopted caused him to direct his focus on metrics that resulted in him losing sight of the bigger picture.  As part of our discussions, we worked out that there were available and easily exploitable opportunities for him to more than double his profit each year.  Because he had fallen into the rut of using the same metrics that were precise and he was comfortable with, he had not seen the opportunities that are, quite literally, sitting on his doorstep (actually, inside his office).

Beware of too much focus on analysis – the old adage “paralysis by analysis” was proved to work in our discussions as it had given my customer a tunnel vision that fed his dissatisfaction and unhappiness with his position.

When it is just about the numbers, the meaning is lost.

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