Apples to Apples: Measuring Progress Across an Organisation

We interviewed Timothy, a consultant with a mission sending organisation that has been developing a metrics tool to evaluate businesses across their organisation globally.

How did this metrics tool come about?

I work as part of a team that consults to and supports BAM-type entities across Asia and we were looking for a way to evaluate how those entities were performing and started to develop this benchmarking tool. At the same time another region was working on a similar idea and we realised that it would be far more effective to work on one tool that could be applied globally across our organisation. We want to be able to compare ‘apples to apples’ and get a better read on what is working well worldwide.

What is the tool’s purpose and how has that shaped its design?

Well first of all we wanted it to be a tool that would help business owners identify areas in which they could grow and improve. It has to serve those on the field at the sharp end of doing business so we have tried to make it straight-forward to use and informative. For instance, we have limited the number of questions practitioners have to answer so that it is not an unwieldy time-waster. The reports are laid out in a user-friendly way using various charts and formats so that areas for growth can be quickly pinpointed. It’s a tool that we’ll use when we are consulting with individual companies as a way of focusing on strengths and weaknesses. The results will be part of the ongoing conversation with the business owners, providing a framework for accountability and planning.

However, this is also designed to be a tool that will serve multiple stakeholders. One of the aims is to generate data that will help our organisation globally be good stewards of our resources and identify fruitful practices cross-organisationally. The reporting mechanism enables us to compare results worldwide, but also hone in on specific regions or particular industries, helping us identify where and what is most effective. Businesses will report at least on an annual basis, although it can be used up to 2-4 times a year for either internal or external review. Eventually we hope to adapt the tool for use with new start-ups, which will help communicate standards and expectations as businesses are in early stages of development.

Can you tell us more how the metrics tool works?

Yes, the tool evaluates progress in two distinct areas, using responses to a set of diagnostic questions to score relative strength in these different areas. The two main areas we look at are ‘Potential Impact’ and ‘Business Condition’.

The questions for the ‘Potential Impact’ variable focus on how well the entity is doing in terms of ministry impact. As an organisation we have particular strategic goals related to our focus as an mission agency, and the diagnostic questions for ‘Potential Impact’ very much value progress towards those particular goals. Another organisation may well have a very different set of benchmarks for how they would measure impact.

The other main area is what we call ‘Business Condition’ and this encompasses aspects such as financial soundness, sustainability and credibility. For instance, in financials we are looking for good progress in terms of financial systems, planning and profitability. For sustainability we are looking at things such as regulatory compliance, the long-term engagement and motivation of the core team and having good governance and accountability in place. Another important area for business condition is being credible – are we are a real business and is our role in the community understandable?

The reports take scores from each of these two areas and plot them on various charts and graphs, including bar charts, scatter charts and spider charts. These go with a written report to quickly allow us compare areas of relative progress within a company, and also from company to company. If a company scores relatively highly in both Potential Impact and Business Condition then we would consider it to be relatively healthy, if weak on one or the other variable, we can identify areas for growth, and if weak for both variables, then we can immediately identify that this business requires urgent input – or perhaps even make a decision that it is not going to be viable in the long-term.

One of the gaps that the Measuring Impact paper identified was the need for ‘metrics for comparative studies’ – developing tools able to benchmark businesses against each other and assess the BAM movement more widely. You have been pioneering in this area for your organisation, what challenges have you faced and what have you learned?

I wish we hadn’t been pioneering! It would have been much easier to have a template to follow. However, we have looked at a lot of other metrics tools and researched different ideas and approaches. We’ve taken the best of everything we could find, so we have learned a lot from others.

One of the things that took the longest was choosing the right diagnostic questions for our purposes. We spent a lot of time tweaking the questions to get them just right to yield the kind of results we wanted. We are also aware that we are going to have to adjust the scoring for the questions as we road-test the tool so that we get the delineation between company results that we are looking for. We are in the fairly early stages of using this tool and we know that it will evolve as we use it.

One further challenge is getting full buy in from across the organisation and especially from regional leaders and individual business owners. This will only work as a metrics tool for our organisation if we get that buy in, so there has been a significant amount of effort in terms of communication and building understanding of the tool globally.

 Jo Plummer in conversation with Timothy.

Some details have been changed for security reasons.

Jo Plummer Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.