Business as mission is hard. Very hard! Missionaries with little business experience but plenty of vision start businesses and struggle. Experienced business people start businesses in new countries or cultures and struggle. Too many business as mission (BAM) companies wander in the desert aimlessly. They need a compass to guide them—something to remind them of their direction and tell them if they are on track. Well designed and implemented metrics can help.
Metrics are measures. They are like the control panel on a car—the gauges, lights and dials that tell you how fast you’re going, how much fuel is left and whether you’re headed for trouble. You can drive a car without a fuel gauge or a speedometer, but you will likely run into serious trouble before too much time has passed.
Measures can be numbers, stories, graphs, or generalized reports. These metrics provide an insight into what’s really going on inside the operation. That matters to all who are working hard to see the business achieve its purpose—to glorify God.
Do we know if business as mission is making a difference?
Can we tell if a business as mission company is doing well or poorly?
Do you know if your company is doing what it set out to do?
Do you know if you or your employees are doing their jobs and making a difference?
These are not simple questions and they deserve serious answers. Evaluating ministry is a challenge that makes many people uncomfortable. This discomfort is reasonable to some extent, as the focus of our ministry is service to God and we know that only God can judge his servants. At the same time we recognize that measurement is a tool for direction, like a compass, and applies to ministry as well as to other areas of life. Without knowing where we are or where we have been, it is impossible to chart a course for where we should go. This is especially true when the ministry is a business. We owe it to the many people who have made investments of time, money and prayer to do a fair and honest assessment of the work—both the effort and the results. That is part of the discipline of business.
It is important to realize that we approach holy ground as we approach the topic of examining work done for God and assessing how effective we are being as we steward His resources. It is holy ground, but not unapproachable. We go there recognizing our limitations and knowing that only our Lord can judge his servants. But we go there with confidence that we may provide help to those trying to do His work.
Metrics in scripture
There are many examples of metrics (or measures) being used in the Bible. There are examples of presumption in metrics (such as David’s counting of his fighting forces) and there is also a whole book (Numbers) written at God’s explicit command enumerating the strength (and weakness) of Israel. We also find stories of godly men such as Nehemiah who evaluated the situation and then planned accordingly. In other words, we find people using metrics to help them adjust the way they fulfill God’s commands. Jesus himself calls us to “count the cost” before starting the venture of following him. If we are to do that regarding our spiritual salvation, how much more are we to do it in the way we walk out our practical lives with Him?
Accountability is a clear principle in scripture. It is hard to imagine proper accountability of a business manager without some sort of metrics to guide in assessing performance. This is especially the case where people beyond the manager have provided investment or support for the business. It is important to have means to give assurance to the investors and supporters (financial, emotional and prayer supporters) that the basic goals of the company are being met.
Why measure BAM?
To paraphrase 1 John 4:20, “Any business that says it loves God but does not love its stakeholders is a liar.” Loving stakeholders (including all of those who have a stake in the business: owners, investors, employees, suppliers, customers and people around the world praying for the business) means working for their good. That is hard to do if we are unaware of how the business is performing.
A man heading to a grocery store is implicitly undertaking a range of metrics. He is assessing a whole range of things about his own body (how much energy he has, and what his legs are doing) as well as a whole range of things about his immediate environment (where he is relative to the road and what the cars are doing). In addition he is making measurements about his progress towards his objectives (how much further he has to go to reach the store, whether he will have enough money when he gets there and whether he should buy the large economy packet or just enough for today). The fact that he is a Christian does not change whether he needs to use metrics, but it may change how he uses the metrics and how he prioritizes the results.
A business heading into the commercial environment is very similar. The business needs to understand itself, its immediate environment and its progress towards its objectives. A missional business still needs to use metrics, but the fact that it is missional may change how it uses metrics and how those results are prioritized.
We highlight six reasons that metrics are important for a BAM business:
1. Metrics provide focus
There are five million things to look at and do when running even a small business. A manageable number of measures help provide focus for what is important to you. They focus the performance of the company from the inside and protect us from working on the “urgent” problems instead of the important ones.
For people who have decisions to make about resources—whether they are financiers, managers or mobilizers—metrics can be particularly important in providing focus. It is a basic principle of stewardship that we are supposed to put our resources where they will be most fruitful.
2. Metrics provide perspective
Metrics provide perspective for management and prayer. What you decide to measure and how you do that directly influences what you manage. The measurement system and the reports it produces will direct attention to certain types of issue. This will influence which questions are asked and what insight a business may receive. By choosing the appropriate measures it opens up the opportunity for a business to get insight from the board, managers or advisors about the underlying dynamics of the business. Metrics can ensure that the business makes changes in the right way.
Not only do metrics provide perspective, they keep us in touch with reality. Data provides an objective truth that connects us with the real world. Too often managers fall into the trap of believing their own marketing messages—or prayer letters. Measuring and analyzing can keep us from wandering too far.
Measurements can be used in conversation with God, “Thank you for that impact. We really want to see more of this happen. How do you want us persevere or change?” Experienced Christian business practitioners have plenty of testimonies about God’s response to such conversations.
3. Metrics develop discipline
Metrics develop the discipline needed for further growth. The simple act of preparing the metrics forces company management to establish and maintain some basic disciplines for gathering, reporting, and analyzing data in the company. That exercise can be the most valuable piece of process. It is particularly valuable as the company matures and experiences growth. When that happens the metrics will need to become more conscious and formal. For example, employee satisfaction does not need to be a formal process for a business with three people sitting in the same room every day but it does need to be consciously considered when hundreds of employees are dispersed in five locations.
Within a large dispersed organization, metrics are a basic communication discipline. The metrics provide a basis for effective two-way communication. They do not remove the need for other softer forms of communication, but without metrics there is little framework for communication. This discipline does not only exist within businesses but can also exist between businesses and their stakeholders. For example, a bank is less likely to foreclose on a business that provides clear metrics, compared to a business that communicates vaguely or not at all.
4. Metrics provide accountability
Metrics provide accountability to boards, advisors, investors, managers and other stakeholders. They are a way to communicate the health and progress of the business to others involved in the business. They declare what the business thinks is important and thus communicate the business’s values. They let the employees and customers know what is important. They allow all the stakeholders to judge whether the business’s values are appropriate and whether the business is living up to those values. Metrics set a standard that lets others know what to expect. Communicated well, metrics ensure that the team is all on the same page about what the business is doing and in the way it is being done.
5. Metrics can be encouraging and provide motivation
All of us have those days when we question if we are really making a dent in some problem area or another. A system that can measure our activity, our environment and our progress can give us that encouraging incentive to persevere. This ‘report card’ can be something to hold onto so that we can say, “Yes, there are signs of life, growth and change! We have seen signs of God’s provision and God’s activity through us.” It can also help us hone our prayer targets and enable us to inspire others to pray for our endeavors strategically and specifically.
Short term, honest feedback can help people keep going through difficult and otherwise discouraging jobs. It can be highly motivating to allow employees to see regularly that the work they are doing is either helping or hindering the company in fulfilling its vision.
6. Metrics are a key part of the planning cycle
The planning cycle benefits any project, activity and process.
Plan: We start with planning and preparing for the project, business, task, work process or whatever it is. We work through what we want to accomplish, how we want to do it, who will take on the tasks or responsibilities and what tools, training and material will be needed.
Do: We then do the job. It sounds simple, but of course, this is where the hard work is.
Review and Reflect: Lastly comes the step most often left out, that of reviewing our work and reflecting on what we have seen and learned. Here we step back and see how we have done so that we can make corrections and improvements. This is where metrics come in. We use metrics to assess our work to date and give us objective data which allows us to evaluate, reflect, pray, seek God’s heart and voice and consider the changes we should make as we move ahead. Without this step, the work will likely never improve because it is reflection that allows us to learn from our experiences.
Repeat: We move from Reflect and Review back to Plan to implement the changes we have determined in the review step. And the cycle continues.
This simple cycle can be applied in virtually any area—commercial, spiritual, environmental or social—and it is in itself a valuable discipline.
Staying on Track
Without some consistently applied metrics it is very hard to know if the business is on track to achieve what it set out to do. That is dangerous for any business. However, since BAM businesses set out to bring glory to God and to expand the Kingdom of Christ, the consequences of being off track have eternal significance!
We believe it is not only possible, but highly valuable for a company to have practical, intentional goals for ministry and then to evaluate (measure) their performance against these goals. We also believe it is right and appropriate for outside agents, whether owners, investors, ministries or researchers, to have tools to evaluate and compare. Benchmarking and the development of best practice indicators are valuable for the entire BAM community.
First published on The BAM Review in August 2015 and reposted for the current series on measuring impact in business as mission.
Excerpt from the BAM Think Tank Measuring BAM Impact report. We recommend reading this report in full and we post some additional extracts from it in the coming weeks.