Return to Measures

Cardinal measures

  • If you want to manage productivity well, you first need to measure it well and ensure your team understand the measures you use


  • Every organisation, whatever its size, has plenty happening by the hour, week or year – customers seen, calls taken, transactions made, incidents attended, press releases written, widgets produced – so which are the most important areas to measure and how to measure them?
  • At present, many managers suffer ‘information overload’ –  they also have important ‘information gaps’ – hence, many end up focussing too much on one area, say quality, and ignoring others like cost
  • After their recall of nearly 10 million vehicles, most due to ‘unintended acceleration’ troubles, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, commented “some executives just got too big headed and focussed too excessively on profit – what suffered was the reliability and quality of Toyota’s cars – a reputation that took years to build but only days to unravel”
  • Managers at all levels thus need a set of productivity measures which covers all areas where it is most important that an organisation performs well – a set which prevents them ignoring any one
  • These measures are what we call ‘cardinal measures’ – tat sea, cardinal buoys are the most important for skippers to navigate their boats safely from A to B
  • Cardinal measures are the messengers of good or bad news:
    • They ring alarm bells when major dangers, or opportunities, approach
    • They highlight where improvement is needed, albeit not how to improve
  • Once a cardinal measure has raised an alarm, the manager responsible for it must drill down to measures below to find possible causes of why things have gone wrong, or unexpectedly right, and decide what action to take
  • Jack Welch, ex CEO of GE, said: “Managers need something that lets them move faster, communicate more clearly and involve everyone in a focussed effort to serve ever more demanding customers”
  • Paul Rogers of Bains consultancy rightly said: “Good companies concentrate on the stuff that really matters – and, when they make decisions, they get it right more often than they get it wrong – less successful companies take too long to make up their minds, and decisions are made by the wrong people in the wrong part of the organisation or based on the wrong information”
  • A set of cardinal measures provides the answer for most managers

Cardinal model

The cardinal model below covers the full set of cardinal measures needed by all managers at all levels – causes and effects are indicated by the connecting arrows but it’s impossible to be more precise   Managers cannot just focus on one or two of the above cardinals and ignore the rest – they must …

Financial outcomes

Of the many financial measures available, only three qualify as the top financial cardinals – the alarm bells that will prompt action in good time They’re total revenue, total costs and profitability All three are top-of-the-tree financial measures – the performance of each one is determined by many component measures below them – the ‘drill-downers’ …

Customer outcomes

All organisations have two kinds of customer – external and internal: External customers – They decide whether or not to buy or use the products and services you offer them – whether you offer them value/ benefits Internal customers – They are fellow-workers further ‘down the line’ who depend on you to supply them with information, …

Physical inputs

Managers need to know how much more they might offer their customers, existing and potential, and how much less it might cost Imagine if a manager found that a direct competitor sold ten times as much to a common market, or produced twice as much from the same input resources, or had unit costs 70% …

Mental Inputs

There are two major mental inputs from any team which impact productivity levels: Employee motivation Corporate knowledge   1. Motivation: There’s no precise formula defining the relationship between productivity levels and the significant factors which determine them  Nevertheless, for any given system, the broad relationship is a mix of two factors:         …

Target setting

There are several target options available, including: Reference periods – RPs – what you once did – a performance benchmark achieved in the past, equivalent to an athlete’s PB – average performance over a 4 week historical period, say – it lets you assess if you’ve made any progress since Budgets – what you are …