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The Ultimate Measure

Posted May 30, 2012 12:22 PM by Dylan Miyake

For private sector organizations, it's usually pretty easy to figure out the ultimate measure of success -- it's usually some proxy for profitability -- either earnings per share, revenue growth, or share of market. But for the clients we work with, it's often a bit harder. While we can usually define the strategic objective pretty clearly, it's harder to define the measure behind it.

Defining the ultimate measure of success is the mission-driven world is difficult because of the massive number of externalities at play. Think of the massive number of factors that impact the environment. Or our children's education. Or social equality. Or any number of issues that our clients deal with on a daily basis.

With all this fuzziness between the mission and the measure, a lot of organizations just throw their hands up in the air and give up on the ultimate measure of their impact. "Hey," the argument goes, "we only have kids through middle school. So who knows what happens to them in high school or college. Yeah, we want to get them to and through college, but it's out of our hands."

I think this is a mistake. Here's why.

KIPP, the network of charter public schools, was facing exactly the issue above. Their goal is to get their kids to and through college to improve their educational and life outcomes. But they just ran middle schools. So, was it really fair to the organization to track college graduation rates? Yes. If the mission is really to get kids to and through college, you must track college graduation rates.

And through tracking college graduation rates, KIPP learned something sobering. While 94% were graduating from high school (a great accomplishment), and 84% matriculated to college (another great accomplishment), only 39% graduated from college. Which, in an of itself, is an incredible college graduation rate, but not good enough for KIPP's ultimate mission to get kids to and through college.

Yes, they could leave this out of the marketing material and just advertise their incredible graduation rate. But that would be counter to the mission. The 39% was a wake-up call to the organization. Even though they don't impact all the variables that drive college graduation, they went back and looked at their programs to understand what they could do to drive increased college graduation.

Being transparent about both the challenges and the opportunities throughout the network, and being intellectually honest enough to track their ultimate mission, has allowed KIPP schools to network and collaborate on ways to solve the college graduation "problem." Right now, they're working on ways to better prepare their students for college, put in place support systems once they leave the KIPP network, and other creative ways to solve the problem.

So, what I learned from KIPP was that being honest about your mission and measuring it, even if you don't impact 100% of it, allows you rally the organization around the mission and work towards executing on it. You may not like the number when you first see it, but that's the opportunity, right?