Andy: We’re excited to kick off the new year with one of our favorite subjects: MATH!
Emma: Indeed! Knowing your numbers is one of the best tools a manager has. I should know. I avoided knowing them for years — all the years I wasn’t a particularly good manager.
Andy: Knowing your numbers means you know what your team is doing, how long it takes, how much it costs, when it’s due, and when it’ll be delivered. You know who on your team is the best, the middle, the worst. You know better than anyone if you are early, on time, or late. You know how many errors you’ve had, what they were, and why. You know how long it took to fix them, what those fixes cost the company, and what was lost because of them.
Emma: It sounds like a bonkers amount of information to find and hold on to. But knowing it means you know the physics of what you’re overseeing. You can convert everything you manage into the basic building blocks of time, money, and output. That’s the stuff businesses run on. Everything is math!
Andy: Knowing your numbers means you can make decisions very easily. The numbers turn questions into answerable math problems, so when you ask the CEO of your company to add hundreds of thousands of dollars of overhead to his company, you can do it with unadulterated confidence. You have numbers to back it up: Tripled output! 5X revenue! In the next 12 months! This is a real example from my life!
Emma: And you have so much context at the ready. Why did this error happen? You can answer and then you can add, “Our error rate is 0.02% — we have one error for every 5,000 shipments.”
Andy: So pro.
Emma: There’s also a major optics component. When I know my numbers, I’m proving “I got this!” Managing up like that is how you earn trust and advance. And it’s what your team needs from you. I hate being managed by someone whose peers and bosses don’t respect them.
Andy: Your reward: leeway. You get the freedom to manage your team the way you manage. You don’t have to defend that you’re young, or you don’t dress the way you’re expected to, or that you let your team work from home on Wednesdays. It’s like the leeway granted to a winning coach: Well, they’re winning aren’t they?
Emma: You don’t have to know every number right away. I like starting out by benchmarking how long each discrete task of a job takes, and then calculating how much each of those tasks costs. I use those numbers to understand how much the work my team is doing costs and compare that to the money the company is making. I take it all to my boss and ask, “Are we on track?”
Andy: Yes, this is a phenomenally simple way to start. What is happening and how long does it take? It’s nutty when you realize you don’t actually know this number.
How to Find Your Numbers
First, make a list of all the numbers you have.
• What are your goals and how are they measured?
• What are your KPIs and what are the inputs for those KPIs?
• What finance documents do you have access to?
• What dashboards does your boss look at?
Then, make a list of all the numbers you need to know, but don’t.
Every job will have different numbers that are important, but these are a few go-tos to get you started:
• How long it takes your team to do each part of your team’s job
• How much each part costs (Multiply time by your people costs — usually 1.3X their salary)
• How many people it takes to do the job
• How many people it would take to do 10X the job
• If an order comes in on X day, when will it be ready?
• Your team’s capacity
• How close to capacity your team is running right now
• How close your team is to hitting its goals — monthly, quarterly, yearly
Ask yourself: Which of these can I figure out myself? Which do I need help on?
Andy: Do not quit here if you think: Oh, my job isn’t data-driven. No one here is keeping track of those things. I’m not numbers-y!
Emma: You don’t need to be all that numbers-y. It’s basic arithmetic. It’s basic Excel. I remember being really surprised by how manual the process of finding your numbers is. In one instance, I rolled my chair around to different people on my team asking them, “How long did this step take you? What about this step?” and writing it down in a notebook.
Andy: I know. I always pictured myself in front of a six-screen display wall like some kind of day trader, not just adding the numbers from four columns together in a spreadsheet.
Emma: And don’t forget, there are lots of people around to help out. You may have a business intelligence team that can build you a dashboard. You may have a tool-sy person on your team who you can task with figuring out how to get you these numbers.
Andy: Plus, brainstorming how to figure out the numbers you need is truly excellent 1-on-1 fodder with your boss.
Start Interpreting the Data
Spend some time reading the dashboards and asking questions.
Here are a couple nice and straightforward ones:
• What’s going up and down month-over-month, week-over-week, year-over-year?
• What trends are happening?
• What anomalies stick out? What’s going on there?
• What is totally not working? Why?
• What’s a rocket ship and really, really working? Why?
Then, translate what you see into sentences.
Literally write them down.
• Last week, we shipped 4,000 units.
• This was 200% more than the week before.
• We haven’t shipped this much since Q4 2010.
Listen to the sentences other people say.
Write those down, and go back and see where they got that information. Or, ask in the meeting: What cell of the spreadsheet are you in? Where are you seeing that? In your next 1-on-1, ask your boss to walk you through what they see when they read the dashboard.
Put time on your calendar to do this every week.
Try Some Thought Experiments
Once you know your numbers, you can start using them as strategy narratives. This is some next-level, Thinking Big management stuff. Here are three we both use all the time:
• If you needed to cut your budget in half, how would you do it?
• If you needed to cut your production time in half, how would you do it?
• If you had $40,000 in bonus money, who would you give it and what numbers could you use to prove they deserved it?
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Numbers Edition