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Refuel Your Small Business With Actionable Data

When a brown bear catches a salmon, it doesn’t simply devour it; it picks it apart for the most nutritious cuts. Just like a bear, as a business owner you can’t stop at the data-gathering stage. To feed your company with meaningful data, you must refine and process it to extract the meatiest bits. In short, you need to turn data collection into data action.

Business leaders no longer struggle with data collection and storage. Virtually anyone can access cloud software and collection methods without breaking the bank. The real challenge lies in tying raw information to your infrastructure.

But according to a study by Accenture and General Electric, 89 percent of executives see big data analytics as the make-or-break point for startups, yet few take action based on data. By failing to incorporate a data analytics strategy, you risk losing market share and momentum.

As an entrepreneur, the odds are undeniably against you. When one small misstep could spell disaster for your startup, you can’t afford to ignore data infrastructure. Data-driven decision-making is informed, confident, and factual and allows you to make decisions using your head, not just your instincts.

“More accurate analyses may lead to more confident decision making. And better decisions can mean greater operational efficiencies, cost reductions and reduced risk.” (Source: SAS)

To stand a fighting chance at survival, you must learn from data and take action quickly and sensibly. Here’s how to turn your data into actionable steps:


  • Inventory Internal Data

    The first step is recognizing all your data sources internally and ensuring you have access to both structured and unstructured data. You might already be collecting useful data as a byproduct of another process, such as the volume of downloads you receive at particular times of the day.

    By connecting metrics to your wild internal data, you’ll start to glean trends and warning signs that will point you to the right action steps. For example, trends could show signs that an employee isn’t hitting the mark or should be rewarded for her outstanding performance.

  • Approach Data as a Driver of Innovation

    To start turning your data collection into action, think of your data in terms of innovation opportunities. Look at consumer behavior trends alongside your product list, and it should become clear when something is amiss.

    For example, you might need to discontinue a product if you notice a lack of interest or it’s inconsistent with your target demographic. Using that information, you can quickly start improving your services and product offering and be confident you’re making well-informed decisions.

Why Your Startup Needs to Be Data Mature From the Beginning

Why Your Startup Needs to Be Data Mature From the Beginning

For many entrepreneurs, data is an extravagance that can be overlooked during those early, nose-to-the-grindstone days of launching a startup. You’ve got more important things to worry about, right?


Data matters, even to startups. Data-driven metrics are key to moving your company beyond survival mode so you can focus on other business goals. Data can give you an edge over competitors and identify strengths that can take your company to the next level. But simply establishing data-driven practices for one or two aspects of your business isn’t enough.

To grow into a successful industry leader, you need to make data maturity a main focus from the beginning.

What data maturity truly means.

Companies that utilize data use it in many different ways. Some use it to track sales or employee performance. Some use it to monitor consumer behavior or advertising trends. In these cases, data use is effective but narrow, often benefiting only one or two departments in particular.

Data-mature companies use data to grow and improve the entire organization. An MIT Sloan Management Review study laid out the different levels of data maturity a company can pass through: aspirational, experienced and transformed.

Aspirational companies collect data throughout their organizations, but they only use that information to measure how effective a decision was rather than to actually drivetheir decisions. Experienced companies use previously collected data to make decisions for the future. Data is integrated into some (but not all) business development aspects and functions.

Finally, transformed companies use data in virtually every aspect of the business, especially for making decisions in the moment and for the future. They often discover new products and services that transform their industries.

It’s important to understand where your company stands on this scale so you know what needs to be done to advance — or mature — and strengthen your business practices. Begin with these steps:

1. Evaluate where your company stands.

To identify where your company stands on the data-maturity scale, you need to dive deep into your unique situation. Ask yourself whether:

  • Your current data structure gives you consistent information.
  • You have tools installed that provide data assistance.
  • You’re paying for data applications that are tailored to your industry and business model.

Then, determine whether you:

  • Make business decisions based on data findings.
  • Get attention outside of your business for your use of data.
  • Are directed toward innovation based on your data.

Use your answers to identify your place on the scale above.

2. Compare your data practices to companies around you.

Take a closer look at how others in your industry utilize data. For example, those in manufacturing and healthcare are typically pretty low on the scale. While they understand the importance of data, they aren’t actively using it to make decisions. Meanwhile, companies such as Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon and Uber have used data to upend traditional business models and transform their respective industries. Gather ideas to apply to your company.

3. Set tangible goals.

To move beyond simple data strategies and mature into an industry leader, you must think critically about the ways you can expand data use throughout your organization. First, define clear business goals. Then, come up with an action strategy for investing money in data tools and building a data-friendly infrastructure.

4. Connect data to innovation.

Use your new-and-improved data infrastructure to identify gaps in your products and industry, and to generate solutions to those problems. Utilize data regarding market demand to identify what your customers want. Use consumer feedback and customer surveys to track your progress. Motivate employees to generate good ideas by connecting incentives to motivation. Assess your efforts, and expand upon what works.

Data is fundamentally important for your startup, and focusing on data maturity as your company grows is vital to your success. Establishing a plan to continuously expand and deepen your use of data will set your company apart from competitors and transform your business into an industry leader.

How this Columbia University ‘entrepreneur in residence’ says her gig pays off

Being a tech entrepreneur doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk coding all day or running from one meeting to the next. For me, taking the time to share my ideas with others is a natural extension of innovation and discovery.

Since starting my company almost 20 years ago, I’ve experienced success and failure, I’ve had hard times and prosperous ones, and I’ve survived two economic crashes. Looking back at my experiences, I felt a strong urge to share them to help the next generation of innovators enter the startup world with confidence.

Being offered the title of entrepreneur in residence at Columbia Business School gave me the perfect opportunity to satisfy that craving. Not only has the position been one of the most personally enriching experiences of my career, but it has also invigorated my business by pushing me to think creatively.

The Astounding Experience of Being an Entrepreneur in Residence

Like many top schools throughout the country, Columbia Business School actively engages alumni and business professionals. Its Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center gives students the benefit of real-world experience.

I got involved with the program by chance. I was on a panel to judge student presentations for the school’s entrepreneurship program, and Clifford Schorer, a professor I had worked with, asked me to be a guest lecturer for his class.

He said there was no better feeling than helping a person succeed — and he was right. Columbia honored me with the title of entrepreneur in residence, and I now hold seminars and thought leadership lectures for the university. I have office hours and coach students, which gives me a unique opportunity to interact with the next generation of innovators and truly make an impact.

Each interaction I have with the MBA students is incredibly uplifting. As I help prepare them for life in the tech world, they inspire me with their drive, energy, and hopefulness. Working with students motivates me to try harder, take more risks, and think outside the box. This has had an undeniable impact on my business.

As much as I teach students, they also teach me. Their perspectives are refreshingly unbiased, and they can provide feedback and ideas that I would have never considered. Being asked to explain my experiences also helps me think critically about my career, and that is helpful at any stage in the entrepreneurial journey.

How to Get Involved in Shaping Tomorrow’s Innovators

I’m not the only entrepreneur who sees value in teaching. Many well-known entrepreneurs are now using their expertise to inspire the next generation. For example, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has taught Computer Science 183: Startups at Stanford University.

You can give back, too, by connecting with a nearby institution and offering your unique skills and experiences. You don’t need millions of connections to do it — just a willingness to teach and learn. Here’s how:

  1. Take a critical look at your career. How much time do you have to devote to teaching others? If your schedule is already packed, mentoring or lecturing might not be a good idea for your company or the students. But if getting involved with the community fits with your business goals and your schedule, go for it.
  2. Reach out to local institutions. Initiate a conversation with deans at a nearby institution to find out how you can help their students. You should ask questions such as “What types of speakers or activities have been especially valuable to your students?” and “What are some of the biggest challenges your students face as they embark on their future careers?”
  3. Volunteer to help students. After you’ve identified a program that could benefit from your experience, offer your time and services. You could volunteer to be a guest lecturer or a one-on-one mentor. Or you might offer to run a booth at the career fair or let students shadow you for a day. The possibilities are endless.

Becoming an entrepreneur in residence has been one of the highlights of my career. I became an entrepreneur because I was inherently curious and had a deep desire to innovate. Helping students allows me to share my passions, and it’s exhilarating to stand in front of a group of young innovators bursting with exciting ideas for the future.

Should You Invest in Techies or Train Non-Technical Employees?

As an entrepreneur, you want your team to be the best of the best — the most creative, the smartest, the most skilled. But when it comes to sourcing tech talent, startups can struggle to find the best brains at an affordable price.

The talent war going on in Silicon Valley has gotten out of control. Tesla and Apple are notorious for poaching each other’s employees, and Weeby is trying to distinguish itself in the battle for engineers by offering $250,000 salaries.

With so many companies competing for talent, you may find yourself debating whether you should try to hire top-notch tech talent right out of the gate or pay to develop in-house non-technical employees. While I believe that it’s possible to build a team of tech-savvy individuals with continual education and training, the more advanced and adaptable your employees are from the outset, the better your chances of getting ahead.

When deciding whether you’re prepared to try to teach tech smarts, the first thing to consider is whether you need technical employees or employees who are merely tech-savvy.

As a startup, you really shouldn’t consider hiring team members who don’t at least have technical adaptability. My company only hires tech-savvy individuals because 80 percent of our jobs require technical skills. But even if your company is less tech-oriented, nearly every role these days requires employees who have at least basic tech skills. Your job as a leader is to hire people who are hungry for growth and work to unlock the techie inside each of them.

But if your business requires employees who are technical — such as developers and software engineers — that’s another story. While it’s possible to incorporate technical training into your company’s culture, training is expensive. According to the Association for Talent Development’s 2014 report, the cost per learning hour for training an employee in 2013 was $1,798. These costs can quickly drown your startup.

Another thing to remember is that individuals who come in with strong technical backgrounds simply bring more to the table. They can contribute from day one, bring ideas to life and understand how the technology will impact your company for the next five to 10 years. Hiring someone with technical skills is the difference between hiring someone who looks in a toolbox and doesn’t know which screwdriver to use and someone who can grab the toolbox, find what he needs and start building.

Here are a few ways you can transform your startup to attract the right people in today’s competitive market:

1. Become a tech paradise.

To attract the most brilliant technical employees, your company must invest in a strong tech backbone. A-list employees are looking for employers with the tools in place to help them succeed in their roles: state-of-the-art technology; the most up-to-date operating systems; and great tools for social media, employee engagement and operations.

Present potential employees with a cutting-edge environment that will help them succeed in their roles, and they’ll be knocking down your door.

2. Create workflow automation.

You can dramatically increase the efficiency of your work environment by establishing workflow automation processes. By taking advantage of the automation technology tools available, you can give employees more control over their responsibilities, create a more efficient work experience and reduce the risk of errors that can halt progress.

3. Optimize recruitment.

Finally, you need to optimize your recruitment efforts to attract technical talent. Explore networks where techies collaborate, such as GitHub, and establish a presence at local hackathons and tech meetups. Be candid and exciting in your job postings, and don’t forget to mention perks that will appeal to the tech-minded.

When building your startup dream team, it’s OK to hire employees who are merely tech-savvy to fill certain positions. However, non-technical roles are disappearing quickly, and you can’t afford to hire people who aren’t ready to adapt and learn. More tech skills equal more value, so it’s in your startup’s best interest to hire for whatever technical skills you can afford.

5 Ways to Keep Your Female Tech Employees Around for the Long Haul

Tech jobs are undoubtedly on the rise. predicts that by 2020, computing jobs will have more than doubled to 1.4 million. Not only that, but a recent survey by the Technology Councils of North America revealed that 74 percent of tech executives think there’s already a shortage of qualified workers. In other words, capable tech employees are in high demand.

So why are so many women leaving the tech industry? Women were greatly outnumbered in the tech field to begin with. Even major companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple reported that men outnumbered women (at least) 4 to 1 in tech departments. Now, even more women are leaving their highly profitable jobs for preventable, fixable reasons.

Some reported feeling like their work environments were “hostile,” male-centered and isolating. Others felt like they were discriminated against due to preconceived notions regarding their gender, age and lifestyle choices — especially about marriage and motherhood. Discrimination often led to them being overlooked for special projects and promotions.

Motherhood and rigid job structures were other major complaints. In one survey, more than 10 percent of respondents cited poor maternity leave policies as a major factor for leaving their jobs. Others said their work environment didn’t support their parenting responsibilities and that their salaries couldn’t cover child care costs.

In a time of remarkable growth, managers in tech simply can’t afford to keep losing — or not hiring — female employees. They must take steps to make their work environments more welcoming and unbiased toward women or risk not having the talent to get the job done.

Employers need to make women in tech feel supported from day one. But to achieve this, they have to consciously create a culture that embraces and supports women at every stage of their professional and personal lives.

Here’s how.

1. Encourage diversity.

A successful business thrives on diversity: different voices and different skill sets working together harmoniously. Women add a crucial element of diversity to the workforce that shouldn’t be disregarded. Employers are responsible for ensuring their company culture never muffles diverse voices or ideas.

2. Reward employees based on fair, transparent performance goals.

Eliminate questions of bias or unfair treatment by having clearly outlined and accessible performance metrics. Employees should know what it takes to be rewarded or advance in their careers. The same rules and standards need to apply to every employee; female workers shouldn’t feel like they have to be aggressive or work extra hard to earn recognition. Incorporating a real-time performance dashboard into company operating systems is a great way to create transparency around personal and company-wide performance.

3. Invite feedback.

Part of keeping employees happy is listening and responding to feedback. Create an environment where employees feel safe voicing concerns, and respect what they have to say. If they feel heard, they’ll be more loyal.

4. Create a truly flexible work environment.

Employers making women and men with families feel respected and supported is vital. Making their workdays too rigid can inadvertently force them out of the company. Instead, allow employees to set their workdays around their parental responsibilities — as long as they’re still producing results.

5. Create a female-friendly workplace.

Hiring one woman and expecting her to fit in and solve a company’s diversity problems is simply not enough. Employers need to make the work environment safe and comfortable for women by eliminating preconceived notions, forbidding sexist language and behavior, hiring multiple women at once and establishing a clear sexual harassment policy.

As the tech field continues to grow, filling all the vacancies will be difficult. Managers will need to not only snatch up every qualified candidate they can find — regardless of gender, age or race — but also hold onto the workers they currently have. To stop the droves of female employees leaving tech jobs, leaders need to focus on making the industry more fair, flexible and female friendly.

Your Data Needs Regular Health Checkups, Too

Labeling any data as “bad” feels a little bit like betrayal to the true data fanatic, but you know when the data you’re collecting is a little…well, under the weather. Website traffic suddenly drops to zero, you’re missing data when you run your reports and names appear in five different formats. By that same token, you know what healthy data looks like. It’s clear, easy to understand and ties into your overarching strategy.

Still, it can be hard to discern whether your data is truly in tip-top shape, and unless it is, the information you glean from it isn’t going to propel your startup forward. It’s important to regularly assess your data infrastructure for quality and effectiveness to fuel your business in the most efficient way possible.

The first step is creating a rubric so you can treat your data to a regular checkup. Here’s how to get started:

1. Establish a metrics hierarchy.

Look at your overarching business goals, and prioritize your metrics accordingly. To ensure your goals are balanced, focus on the five pillars of success: strategy, methodology, technology, implementation and adoption. Then, prioritize goals for each of the pillars so your rubric can gauge the well-being of every layer of your operation.

2. Share the responsibility.

When you know which metrics are important, hold yourself and your team accountable. Monitor your highest priorities yourself, setting a schedule for regular checkups. Plug it into your calendar so you don’t forget.

Delegate other metrics, making sure everyone knows when and how they should be performing checkups and to whom they are reporting. Employees should be able to look at the metrics they’re responsible for and detect any shifts in purpose or outliers that could be attributed to errors.

3. Create a rubric document.

Craft a living, breathing document that will act as your data standards guide. It should outline answers to questions such as “Does the data we’re collecting tie into the overall strategy goals?” and “Does everybody understand best practices for naming and inputting data?”

Establish a checklist so the manager of that metric can cross-check that the data is living up to your standards at regular intervals.

4. Make it easy.

Your rubric should be accessible with the click of a button. It should be present on your team members’ dashboards in a digestible, intuitive format so your team can navigate it with ease. In data, there is such a thing as too many choices, so don’t create 20 reports if you only need five. There’s no point in empowering everybody to take control of data health when the checklist itself is unhealthy.

5. Check early and often.

Create your rubric as soon as you can. Establishing a data-driven culture is important as you grow, and it’s far easier to achieve this culture while your company is still young and mobile.

Your rubric should be like any other teammate. It should be involved in every decision you make and every meeting you attend. Embed the rubric into your processes, and schedule regular group checkups so you can collectively track your team members’ data health and address any issues they might be facing.

6. Don’t be afraid to change.

The whole point of establishing metrics in the first place is to help you achieve your overall business goals. If the data you’re tracking turns out to be unrelated to your goals, shift your focus and reassess your hierarchy of metrics.

Your company is in constant flux. Your definition of a “healthy company,” your priorities, your goals and the world around you will all change whether you like it or not. So your analytics system needs to grow with you.

Integrating analytics into your company culture will reveal whether you have an ineffective data infrastructure. Backed by good data, you can keep striving toward those beautiful business goals with the knowledge that you’ll cross the finish line in great health.

How Hospital Execs Can Keep Up in the Fast-Paced Tech World


hospital executivesRemember when phones were only used for making calls? Today, they’re used to transfer money, write emails, play movies, take pictures, make purchases, video chat, and more. In fact, calls only account for a small fraction of phone use. In the past 20 years, the shift in technology has caused a lot of companies and jobs to go extinct, but a select few — those that anticipated and welcomed change — survived.

Now healthcare is undergoing a similar shift. Data and technology advancements are revolutionizing the healthcare landscape, from patient exams to medical records to staffing and scheduling. On top of that, healthcare is primed to become a trillion-dollar industry within the next five years. But one complication remains: Hospital executives are notoriously reluctant to embrace change, and this reluctance is slowing advancements throughout their facilities and the industry as a whole.

So with an inevitable wave of change coming to healthcare, you must decide whether you’re going to hold your hospital back or embrace these innovations and be on the forefront of the healthcare revolution.

The Unfortunate Trend of Ignoring Innovation

For quite some time, healthcare execs have been so focused on getting reimbursed for services, cutting spending, and growing profits that they’ve become unwilling to invest in new data infrastructures or technologies. Even if tools offer significant benefits to patients, professionals, and the organization, they’re often written off as extraneous expenses. This reluctance to move beyond the flawed fee-for-service business model has stalled innovation and promoted inefficiency throughout the industry.

For example, electronic health records are considered basic but beneficial technology and data advancements, yet only 44 percent of hospitals and 40 percent of physicians have adopted a rudimentary EHR system. And of the $2.6 trillion Americans spend on healthcare each year, about $750 billion of it is wasted on unnecessary and inefficient practices and technologies.

Being behind the IT curve is one thing, but putting those lags into perspective is another story. The Institute of Medicine created some specific analogies to drive home just how far healthcare management is falling behind other industries. For example:

  • Automated banking transactions would take days, not seconds, if banks grappled with the same number of missing files that hospitals do.
  • Different blueprints would be delivered to the construction team, electricians, and plumbers at work sites — with little collaboration among them — if construction were like healthcare.
  • Prices would be difficult to locate or make sense of in grocery stores, varying widely within the same location, if supermarkets operated like the healthcare industry.

At this point, healthcare in the U.S. has reached a crossroads, where the reluctance to progress is not only hurting an industry, but also an entire population.

As a healthcare exec, you must stop viewing these technologies and data infrastructures as superfluous accessories. It’s time to start identifying them as valuable tools that will revolutionize a struggling industry by improving the quality of care, preventing diseases instead of just treating them, cutting costs without sacrificing jobs or care, and offering insights that might have otherwise been overlooked.

In the coming years, if you don’t get on board with change, you (and your organization) will inevitably be left behind. But luckily, it’s not only possible for you to catch up in the tech and data game — you can also lead and propel the industry. 

Make Time for Tech

To get the healthcare industry back on track, every healthcare professional needs to become more technical. But it’s particularly important for you to make time for tech education so you can lead the rest of your team through the transition. Here are some tips for fitting tech education into any busy schedule:

1.     Get your feet wet. There’s no doubt that your schedule is jam-packed, but you’ve got to make education a priority. Start by trying to work in 30 minutes of education every week. That might mean taking online courses during your lunch break, listening to podcasts during your commute, or watching a video while you’re at the gym. You need to work tech into your schedule.

2.     Utilize online learning tools. There are so many online learning tools available for these technical areas — some are even free. Popular examples include Codecademy (which teaches you to code through free interactive instruction) and Coursera (an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations to offer free online courses). You can even use YouTube or Google — they’re great places to start when you want to increase your technical knowledge.

3.     Test-drive tech software. Many software tools, such as Tableau, offer free trials that allow you to discover what they have to offer before you invest. You can get ahead of the curve by playing around with their interfaces and becoming familiar with their capabilities, even if you don’t plan on using the software full-time.

4.     Brush up on healthcare tech trends. You need to make sure you’re well-versed in the “next big thing” in healthcare. Right now, that includes predictive medicine through wearable technologydata interfaces, and robot doctors, à la IBM’s “Watson.”

5.     Take a class. If you live near a university or know of a school with online options, consider taking a course in data or business analytics. It may be a heftier investment than the other options, but it’s definitely one that can pay dividends in the future.

6.     Become an advocate. As an organizational leader, it’s up to you to become a catalyst for change. If your hospital is going to be on the forefront of your industry, you have to advocate for education and advancement. Talk to your board and peers about the importance of investing time (and money) in organization-wide education, and suggest tools or resources for advancing change throughout the hospital.

Whether you like it or not, change happens — just ask any telephone company executive from 1995. And as the world advances toward more tech-driven, data-centric healthcare models, you need to prepare yourself and your hospital by investing more time, energy, and resources into tech and data education. Only those who embrace change, adopt technology, and develop a passion for making their hospital the best will be around in 20 years to tell the tale.

How to Implement an Effective Business-Value Dashboard in 4 Simple Steps

The business-value dashboard (BVD) could be your hidden gem. It’s one of the prime ways you can create those “aha!” moments you and your team treasure, creating value with its use and facilitating self-discovery.

Instead of just presenting raw numbers as a traditional dashboard would, a BVD focuses on the bigger picture: The business value of your company’s performance. While a typical dashboard might measure downtime, a BVD focuses on how that downtime affects the business’s revenue.

When you’re measuring every daily action around the value it creates, your organizational culture evolves to support those value-driving actions.

Here are a few steps you should take when implementing a BVD:

1. Find your focus

According to Gartner, 90 percent of organizations that fail in their BVD programs do so because they deploy the wrong tool. But the real reason they fail is that most companies don’t spend time figuring out their focus before implementing the tool.

We’ve become so wired to view dashboards as quantitative and operational that it’s hard to shift our mindset to what we want that dashboard to help us accomplish. Identify your goals first, and you’ll be able to build the right program to help you achieve them.

2. Ask the right questions

To implement an effective BVD program, you need to know where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Get into the practice of answering these questions as a team:

  • What type of company do we want to be?
  • What are we passionate about?
  • What does our culture look like?
  • How do we want to be seen by others?

3. Customize your tool

With those answers in mind, it’s time to build a customized dashboard to fit your needs. Your company is unique, so the BVD you implement should reflect your unique values. For instance, my company helps other companies find their differentiation through analytics. So, we have our own values-based dashboard that also becomes the launch pad for discovering and enhancing our clients’ values.

4. Use your BVD to cultivate your values

Once you have your dashboard program in place, you can use it to cultivate and share your values with the world. Salesforce, for example, has customized its model to embody its community values by giving 1 percent of its time, 1 percent of its equity and 1 percent of its products to the community. How will your company act on its BVD program?

Implementing a BVD doesn’t have to be scary. When you approach the program thoughtfully to keep your company’s unique value front and center, you’ll be able to act on things that enhance that value. Then you can truly embrace those “aha!” moments.

Match the Rewards to the Results

You know that a top company is made of top people. And if your people aren’t happy, they’ll move right along to the next opportunity. According to a recent survey by Right Management, 86 percent of employees surveyed planned to find new jobs this year.

So when it comes to making your employees happy, you need more than just incentives. It’s not enough to decide that the carrot is a far better motivator than the stick. You must present your extraordinary people with extraordinary carrots.

Taking the time to align your incentives with numerical targets could pay dividends not only for your long-term business goals but also for each precious career that you shape.

I believe that employees who work toward specific numbers — figures meaningfully connected to overarching business goals — are much more likely to feel in control of their performance and motivated to impress.

Here are five steps you can take to match rewards with results:

1. Keep targets visible.

Performance metrics should be in front of your employees at all times. Whether this takes the form of desktop dashboards or a collective one hung up in the office, targets should be one of the first things your employees see when they sit down to work. This way, they’ll always be goal-oriented.

2. Clarify incentives and intervals.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be sure your team understands the incentive system. Be sure that your incentives and tangible rewards are clear.

Avoid rewarding in arbitrary increments or just whenever you remember. Rather, match your incentives with a rhythm that makes sense and supply the reward as soon as your employees achieve their targets.

3. Create a tie-in with larger goals.

Incentives are much more effective when they’re meaningful. Be sure employees know why they’re working toward their particular performance targets so they can connect their rewards to the success of your company.

Although you want to connect rewards with target numbers, reminding a team of the holistic and qualitative side of the goals is just as important.

4. Set individual incentives.

One of the major ways that an incentive program can fall flat is by neglecting to treat employees as individuals. Not all your employees will be motivated by money, so  learn personal details about them to gauge the incentives they’ll value most.

For example, if an employee has a special family event, you can reward her by giving her extra time off to prepare.

5. Meet regularly and celebrate.

Having regular meetings is a great way to check in with employees, ensure that they feel supported, ask questions about their targets and catch up over coffee and doughnuts.

My company, Future Technologies, holds status-review meetings on Fridays where staffers discuss goals for the upcoming week. These meetings also serve to recognize employees who have hit or surpassed their goals.

To give your employees a sense of pride, let them know when their hard work is appreciated. This will motivate other team members with a healthy sense of competition.

Zappos is one company that understands the power of aligning employee incentives. It’s known for strong customer service, which the company accomplishes through a 100-point scale called the Happiness Experience Form.

Each agent-to-customer interaction is scored based on various questions about the quality of service. The goal is for agents to make customers feel valued. And if agents collect enough points, Zappos rewards them with incentives.

By providing employees incentives according to performance targets and adapting that system to take each individual into account, you can build a motivated, united team. After all, your company is only as strong as its individuals.

Take the Guesswork Out of Innovation With Metrics

When you hear the word “innovation,” you probably don’t think of numbers. Instead, you might think of Steve Jobs unveiling the first iPod, the funky beanbags in Google’s unique office space or a building made of glass that defies the laws of gravity. The amazing world of innovation, it seems, is made of images, not numbers.

But as businesses continue to evolve at high speeds, your company needs to be in a state of constant innovation to keep up. While thinking intuitively about innovation might lead to some good ideas eventually, innovation takes time and money. You need to invest wisely and any smart investment is backed by metrics.

With metrics, you can isolate the very products and offerings your customers crave. You can then adapt your business to suit them. And it’s not just about creating the next new thing; it’s about creating something that customers want. And although measuring innovation isn’t exactly cut-and-dried, some metrics can point you in the right direction.

Here are some ways to tap metrics to help you turn your ideas into truly game-changing innovations:

People tend to doubt that a data-driven approach to innovation will work — mostly because they assume a direct performance metric is required to measure success. But the truth is that if you’re innovating well, your performance will improve across the board, from revenue to employee performance and customer satisfaction.

True innovation can happen when you use metrics to spot market gaps and fill them with need-based solutions. Take Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis’ innovation strategy, for example.

Before it invests in a health care innovation, it examines what patients need. The company takes its strategy a step further by uncovering multiple uses for a new discovery. For instance, it uses parallel testing to see if it’s possible to treat a range of cancers with just one drug. Recently, the company received approval for Afinitor to be used to treat advanced breast cancer as well as other types of cancers.

Once you develop your innovative solution, use performance metrics to measure how well it fulfills your customers’ wants and needs. Use quantitative customer surveys, gauge demand across product lines and validate new ideas with your audience.

This will enable you to determine how your return on investment is affected by your top innovations.

Coca-Cola, for example, launched a “venturing and emerging brands” team in 2007 to locate the company’s next billion-dollar brand. The group stays abreast of trends to enable Coca-Cola to take advantage of the niche markets that it has historically struggled with — among them, teas and energy drinks. In 2008, Coca-Cola bought a stake in Honest Tea on the team’s recommendation and eventually purchased more of the company. Coca-Cola’s moves have been validated: Honest Tea’s sales of $38 million in 2008 became $100 million by last year.

Create a system by which employees are encouraged to come up with ideas and turn your whole company into an innovation machine. Keep in mind that innovation takes time and effort, so make sure your employees are compensated for their work.

Connect incentives to ingenuity, and your employees will likely come up with more great ideas. Just look at Unilever: It created an initiative to drive innovation by encouraging employees to purchase products at a heavily discounted rate and offer feedback.

As a result, its employees essentially became in-house beta testers.

Of course, innovation can be fun. But by incorporating metrics into your innovation strategy, you give your company a leg up.