29 January 2013

Garbage Miles

I used to be a competitive athlete - a paddler to be exact.

Paddling is a highly technical sport - but also one that requires enormous fitness and power.

When I decided to try to make the leap from being a competitive recreational paddler to being a nationally (or internationally) competitive paddler I was introduced to the concept of "Garbage Miles."

Most coaches running recreational programs (and sadly many running competitive ones as well) are unsophisticated. As a result, tons of them focus purely on the fitness side of paddling - or at best the combination of fitness and power - usually without a scientific understanding of modern physical and athletic performance training. This usually results in their paddlers spending most if not all their time training in manners that are non-productive or even counter-productive. Garbage Miles is one of the examples of this - where a paddler is spending hours and hours every single week, paddling for miles and miles either with the wrong technique or training in a manner that will not improve their end performance.

Garbage Miles are particularly hated by high-performance coaches (and their paddlers) as not only do they not help you improve performance - they take up time and effort that could be used to improve performance.

Garbage Miles are a great illustration of focusing on the wrong goal and the wrong metric. While the true goal is, and should be, to improve your performance in races (and measured over time and across races improve your results) - in this case it has been supplanted by a new (unstated) goal.... "paddle many miles / many hours."

I, personally, love applying sports lessons to work. And Garbage Miles do, in fact, have a great parallel in my world.

In marketing we are regularly given targets which we are measured against - our marketing metrics and KPIs. These targets are meant to be indicators of performance against the actual business goals. The problem is that, in many cases, these targets become treated as if they were the goals themselves.

For example, many marketers now have Social Media metrics that they track (and are measured against). These are intended to be used in conjunction with other metrics to make sure that marketing is doing what it needs to help meet company goals. But as a company starts to manage more and more frequently through these metrics - the tendency to define performance as success against these targets and to treat each target discretely grows.

I regularly see marketers falling into this trap. If you are spending your time working on "juicing your numbers" then you have fallen into this trap. If you are looking at each individual metric and building plans designed to "hit your number" for each metric alone, then you have fallen into this trap.

If you are mistaking your metrics for your goals - you are in this trap.

To illustrate, imagine that I am a marketing manager for a outdoor lifestyle retail brand focused on young working women. Imagine that one of my metrics is "total twitter followers." Now, imagine that it's half way through the month and I'm lagging behind where I should be on this metric.

What I should not do is go to one of the gray-market "twitter follower" vendors. Yes... this will allow me to "succeed" against this metric - but by diluting the value of my audience and reach. I'd be hitting my number - but not only without actually helping the business (or performing against my true goals), but also at the cost of spending time doing things that would help the business.

Spending your time focusing on the metrics rather than the goals is spending your time doing Garbage Miles. You're not helping your own performance or the business' results. You're wasting your time - and the company's money.


Let's sum up.

1 - Never confuse results and performance. Your goal is performance. Good results are the likely outcome of good performance.

2 - Never confuse metrics and goals. Focus on the goals - measure progress by the metrics.

3 - Bad metrics are metrics not derived from your goals. It doesn't matter if they are "easy to achieve" - they're the wrong metrics. Change them.

4 - Metrics are a tool for management - not a method for management. Success should be measured against goals, not metrics.

5 - Garbage Miles are a waste of your time and energy. Be smarter than that.

Remember... this isn't a hobby. This isn't a game. This is real-life competition. There are no short-cuts and clever tricks and cons are just forms of cheating where you cheat both your employer and yourself. Don't be a loser.