My friend Candace said to me one day, “Did you know that shampoo doesn’t need to lather in order to do its job?” She told me that when she was growing up in South Africa, shampoo there did not lather. When she moved to the U.S., she was surprised at the foaming action exhibited by all shampoos.
Evidently, we need some kind of proof that the shampoo is working. We need reassurance that a product is doing its job when outcome indicators are not immediately available – in other words, we need leading indicators to tell us that we are on track to attain the outcome we expect. The more lather, the cleaner the hair, right?
I’ve always had trouble with the concept of leading indicators, because the logical, literal side of my brain tells me that all measures are lagging because some event has to occur before something can be measured. However, the leading or lagging description does not tell us the timing of the measure to the event; it tells us the timing relative to each other. Leading indicators are predictions of future lagging measures. If something is a leading indicator, it shows whether you are progressing toward the end result – the lagging measure. So, for example, if the lagging (outcome) measure is the amount of weight you’ve lost, then the leading (process) indicator may be the number of times you go to the gym, or how many calories you consume per day.
When implementing organizational change, it is important to have and communicate short term wins. One way to do this is with leading indicators. By making the shampoo lather, you can see it is working without having to wait for the final evidence.
Inquiry: What is your shampoo lather?