I was recently having breakfast with a friend and business associate, and as we were leaving, I commented that it looked like he had lost quite a bit of weight. He said he lost 45 to 50 pounds since the last time I had seen him about six months before. I asked him how he did it, expecting either a major increase in an exercise program (I already knew he liked to walk quite a bit), or some structured diet program that we’ve all heard of, or possibly even one of the newer trends like time-restricted eating. Instead what he told me surprised me in its simplicity. He said every morning he wrote down the date and how much he weighed, and then throughout the day he wrote down what he ate. He didn’t count calories or anything like that, simply what he ate. He also said he didn’t restrict himself from anything. He said something like, “If it’s your birthday and there’s cake, I’m going to have cake. But then later in the day maybe I’d swap in a salad instead of something else I might’ve eaten knowing I had cake.”

When I thought about this and why it could work, it made total sense — it was really just becoming aware. And that’s essentially how he described it to me: being aware of what he was eating caused him to make thoughtful decisions.

This is very analogous to many business adages about management and productivity, such as, “what gets measured gets managed” and “inspect what you expect.” The people I work with know I love data, sometimes to a fault. But this is one way data and information can have a huge impact on results. I’ve written before about how 99% of people want to do good, but, as a manager, you have to tell them what good looks like so you’re on the same page. But in thinking about how this “Awareness Diet” worked, I like the idea of taking it a step further to show them what is happening, and what good actually and visibly looks like. My friend obviously had previously known what he was consuming, but when he saw it written in black and white, it had an impact.

I’m all about the scoreboard and if production or bottom line performance is good, that’s fine. However, when performance isn’t good, you need to dig a little deeper beyond performance or actual results to examine the specific activities required to achieve the results.

Since I come from a sales background, I’ll use a sales management example. In financial services sales, like many other relationship-based and service business sales, it’s a long sales cycle – I’m talking years. So to measure only actual sales made, you’d have to look over a multi-year timeframe, which doesn’t work from a sales management perspective. The manager – and, just as importantly, the salesperson – needs to look at the critical activities that lead to sales. Those might be phone calls made, prospect meetings held, proposals made, etc. By creating a visible scorecard of the few critical activities that lead to the desired results, the employee will be acutely aware of what good looks like.

This may seem like more work as a manager with more information and data to comb through, but I would advocate for using the data in a “management by exception” way. If somebody’s putting the winning results on the scoreboard for their bottom line performance, there’s no problem and there’s nothing to do about it (except giving them props!). But if they’re not achieving the required bottom line results and the requisite activities to achieve results are also lacking in their quality or quantity, then you have something you should be talking about.

If you’re a manager and you want to go further with this concept, there’s a very good book about management and execution called The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. In the book, they explain further lagging indicators (results) and leading indicators (activities) and how to develop what they call a “Player’s Scorecard.” I’d highly recommend it as a way to simplify the complexity of execution and make everyone aware!