Calculating for Certainty and Success

Never before have we had the benefit of so much information. A constant flow comes at us from the media, organizations selling to us, and our professional and personal exchanges. And in spite of or because of it we have become information addicts surfing the limitless sources on the web, our appetite never satisfied. You'd think that all this information would make our lives easier, help us make the right decisions and be sure of them. But it doesn’t. The endless stream of facts only complicates our lives and creates uncertainty. Our quest for more and more information has obscured what we are really seeking: Answers.

Sunday nights are particularly bleak. The next morning it's back on the treadmill, back to the rat race and politics. The socio-political issues that tend to dominate organizations constantly undermine our efforts to build a solid foundation for our careers and futures. And just as we finally accept that we are replaceable, we learn of another threat to our stability: we're also outsourceable.

How do we deal with all of this? Our standard reaction is to juggle more. To change priorities as our bosses do and jump on the latest fad with ever less certainty. But doing the same things, the same as everyone else, won't give you answers or help you to jump start the next phase of your career.

Information is wonderful, but answers are the product of understanding and manipulating the information. And the only way to insure a solid career and future is to base it on documented performance data. You have to start calculating. No advanced math or probability and statistics are required. Just use the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division that you already know. Very basic calculations that you can complete on your PDA or a simple calculator.

Say Out Loud, "Yes, I am a 'Numbers' Person"

In addition to doing the actual numbers crunching, you must also let it be known that you calculate everything. It should become part of your reputation. You may not be a math whiz, but you are [now] a "numbers" person. This openness will help you to hold the course as a relentless calculator, but as the most significant decision makers speak numbers, it can only enhance your career. Additionally, innumerate superiors will also call upon you to help them with their number crunching and come to rely on you. It's a very good position to be in.

Apples and Oranges, Gallons and Liters, Dollars and Euros

Before you get out the calculator you have to define what you are calculating. Obsessively seek the best common denominator, measurement standard, and transaction basis. It's okay to mix apples and oranges if you're interested in fruit. The "price per" labels in groceries stores may seem to eliminate the need for calculators until you realize that one product is listed as price per gram and the other is price per milliliter. And the Internet and globalization of work has added the monetary basis of the transaction as another dimension to consider.

It always helps to focus on the ultimate deliverables and costs and what drives them. Rarely is there just one factor to measure. Recruiting for example does not have a single metric or outcome. New hire quality, time, satisfaction and efficiency are all important deliverables. Computer performance is based not on just memory or speed. Implementation costs and times should be viewed in light of the performance factors of the much longer-term operations. Daily or hourly fees have to be associated with performance outcomes.


Make it a habit to calculate everything you possible can. MCI WorldCom's "Dial 10-10-220” television commercials featuring Alf, John Lithgow, John Stamos, and Tony Danza were appealing to everyone but the calculating. Now owned by Verizon, the telephone campaigns have stopped but the model is unchanged, 10-10-220 costs $1.20 for all calls up to ten minutes. If you divide $1.20 by 10 it is 12¢ a minute. And it is also 30¢ a minute for an eight-minute call, 24¢ for a minute for a five-minute call and 60¢ a minute for a two minute call.

Time is almost always important and a relatively easy value to calculate. Make a point of learning and tracking the times associated with important work activities. And look to integrate time calculations with customer activities and preferences. In recruiting it is more important to calculate if candidates started when the hiring manager wanted than how long the recruiting took.

The right ratios can be valuable measures and calculating a number of different ratios can provide enlightening perspectives on performance. Generally the cost ratio is not the best indicator of financial performance. You should also calculate efficiency, the ratio of costs to productivity.

Although there is much that has not been calculated, you should also check existing calculations. Less than half of the corporate calculations that we have reviewed are accurate. In most of these instances it is the base data that is incorrect but we are also been amazed by the frequency and degree of just bad math.

Your Baseball Card

A professional athlete's performance speaks for itself. Their stats are public and accurately represent their value in their marketplace. In addition to being incredibly empowering it also forces them to relentlessly focus on what is really important. It will also work for you. No matter what your job, start calculating your own stats. Who are your customers and what do they want from you? Make a list of what you think your Key Performance Indicators are and ask your boss or customers what they think of them. Start tracking and reporting your performance. Don't be concerned about determining the perfect stats. Even in sports we're continuously re-evaluating statistics. There is no reason to delay starting to document your stats. Expect to change the stats over time as you focus on your performance and better ways to measure.

Our world is not going to get any easier. More and more information is going to keep coming at an ever-faster pace and the smoke and real challenges at work are only going to increase. But the person with the calculator is in the best position to identify the answers and bring success and greater certainty to themselves and their jobs.