I lost a day

I lost a day. Actually, I didn’t lose it so much as it didn’t exist. At least for me.

Here’s how it happened. On Friday, Sept 1 2006 I boarded a 14-hour overnight flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. I had been shortchanging my sleep all week so I was exhausted and fell asleep before the plane even took off. The next thing I knew I woke up 11 hours later somewhere off the coast of China. The monitor in the seat in front of me was displaying a flight map that showed that it was only 3 hours until our destination. And the local time was 3:30 AM. On Sunday morning. Sept 3.

I had slept through the entire day of Sept 2.

Of course, I understand the effects of the International Date Line and that Sept 2 did actually happen. Just not for me. This got me thinking about the importance of perspective and time when it comes to performance management. (Yes, I know that it’s weird to wake up at 35,000 feet and start thinking about performance management. But when you’re passionate about an issue, you can’t control these things.)

Practitioners of the balanced scorecard know all about the concept of perspective. It’s a fancy word for point of view and a way of reminding us to not just think about financial issues and impacts but to also think about employees, our processes, customers, suppliers, funders, etc. From my own unbalanced world, I lost Sept 2; but if I consider the external perspective, I know it really happened. 

Actually, perspective is not quite that simple.

A perspective isn’t how you see someone else’s point of view; it’s how people from that point of view see something. And these are often very different. For example, for a long time, I used “Be the trusted advisor” as an example customer objective for organizations which adapt a customer-intimate strategy. However, this isn’t quite right because I’m actually describing what the company wants; not necessarily what the customer wants. It’s the wrong point of view.

If I change the objective to “Be considered the trusted advisor,” I’ve improved the objective because now the customer decides whether it’s true or not. However, even this isn’t sufficient. What I’m really looking for is something like “Consider the company as a trusted source for information.” This objective is truly written from the customer point of view.

As far as time goes, I’ve always intellectually known that it was somewhat arbitrary but losing an entire day drove home the point. Why do we use such structured timeframes when it comes to performance management? Most organizations compare one financial quarter to the prior period or perhaps to the same quarter the previous year. They compare this week’s sales to last week’s sales.

But businesses – and especially people – don’t operate in these neat little buckets of time. Their behavior is much less structured. It’s the wrong point of view.

Retailers may want to compare sales during an Easter promotion to those during a 4th of July promotion. Weekends to weekdays. Or even dinner crowd traffic to late-night drop-ins. In wine production you might compare 36-day initial fermentation of one wine to the 87-day version of another. Each of these comparisons requires fancy manipulations that don’t obey the standard rules of time.

In my case, if someone was tracking my productivity for the week, I might get bad marks for not accomplishing much on Sept 2. Unless, of course, they looked at it from my perspective: I didn’t make any mistakes that day.


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