What Do You See in the Mirror?

Three lamps over a bathroom mirror

How often do you look in the mirror? Be honest. Some of you can’t pass a mirror or even a reflective pane of glass without stopping to admire yourself. Or adjust your collar. Or play with your hair. Or re-apply lipstick. You get in the car and flip down the vanity mirror behind the sun visor or quickly turn the rearview mirror toward you so you can primp. It’s okay. I’m not judging. Some of you, on the other hand, need to use a mirror. Your hair is disheveled. Your top shirt button is fastened to the wrong buttonhole and your shirt is astray. And the worst of it, you have a poppy seed from your sandwich bun stuck between your front teeth. Me? I’m somewhere in-between. I don’t admire myself in the mirror, but I have one spot in my teeth that seems to collect seeds and small bits of food. I need to make a regular practice out of checking my teeth in the mirror after every meal or snack. Otherwise, my wife has to work hard when we eat out because she knows I’m not looking in the mirror. I should.

Recently, I’ve been driving significant miles on snow and ice. Welcome to Chicago in the middle of winter. Go figure! And I’m constantly checking my rearview and side view mirrors for traffic, crazy drivers, and those fellow commuters who are simply bad drivers, even when they ARE paying attention! The majority of my time is spent looking ahead at cars, road conditions, and potential perils ahead, like that stalled school bus or overturned pickup truck. But I am regularly checking my others mirrors.

Today, while at a stoplight, I saw the car behind me sliding toward my rear bumper. No horn. No flash of his headlamps. Just a slow, steady slide toward my car. Because I had looked in my rearview mirror, I saw him coming and pulled up about 15 feet (fortunately I was first in the queue) and he missed me. Though he came to a complete stop where my car HAD been. Close call. Glad I used my rearview mirror. Yes, there are many types of mirrors, including the bathroom mirror pictured above, but the rearview mirror is one of the most practical. Right?

But one thing about a rearview mirror in the car, you can’t use it drive. Unless you’re backing up. That’s why the saying “you can’t drive by your rearview mirror” exists. It would be folly to look in the rearview mirror continually while driving forward. I hear some you saying that you could drive forward while partially looking in the rearview mirror. Okay, you know what I mean. Plus you’re messing up my story. So in the end, are we agreed that you can’t drive forward by using your rearview mirror? If not, drop out now because I’m going to argue that’s the case.

I mentioned last week that I’ve spent 30+ years looking at, analyzing, digesting, and explaining dashboards, scorecards, statistical analyses, and metrics. And I believe in them. They’re helpful when used correctly. They help us know how to improve. It’s part of the PDCA cycle of continual improvement. They help us know who won the Super Bowl and the World Cup and The Masters. They help drive accountability and ownership. They help create a better tomorrow. They create a baseline for us, a foundation of sorts.

But you can’t drive by them alone. You need to look forward. Looking back has its place, but it can also be a black hole. I’d like to know how many hours I’ve spent explaining the past without regards to using it as a launching pad. I wonder how many hours (or person-years or decades) organizations all over the world spend each year looking backward and explaining past performance without asking “what did we learn” or “how can we improve?”

I want to be clear. Scorecards and metrics are great. When used correctly. They can help create a case for change, serve as a motivator for higher performance and uncover broken processes that need fixed. But if used ONLY to explain the past, which no regard to the “so what”, it can be a huge waste of time, a sinkhole for your organization. And remember whatever time, effort, calories and money you spend looking backward, is the same not invested moving forward. Isn’t that where you want to spend the majority of your resources? Isn’t that where the investment and ROI occurs? Spend a portion looking backward, but the vast majority looking forward.

Hope you have a great week. Look at data. Review your scorecard. Know your dashboard. But look forward as you drive.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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