Category Archives: Seattle Humane

Setting Goals – metrics can drive behavior

A number of years, I joined the board of the Humane Society for Seattle and King County (, a local non-profit that runs an animal shelter, adoption facility, and does veterinary services for the animals in our care. For those that believe in animal welfare as I do, you will easily understand how an organization of this type can attract experience and well meaning board members.

Shortly after joining the board, I began to try to study and make sense of our metrics – especially euthanasia numbers. I well understood that not every animal was “adoptable,” some were too sick to be saved or had behavioral problems that made them unsafe to be in a house with either other pets or small children. But the numbers just didn’t make sense to me. So, along with the support of other board members, I began to ask for more details on the metrics, drilling to the next level of numbers. What emerged was a picture of management controls and lack of consistent strategy that meshed with the desires of the board. As a result, the board changed management first on an interim and then permanent basis. And, we established a goal that “no adoptable animal in our care would ever run out of time or space.”

Over the course of a few months, we focused on a metric that matched that goal (it’s called the Asilomar Live Save Rate) and have been successful in maintaining that metric at a level that qualifies us as a so-called “no kill” shelter for several years since. And then we were able to go to important, but secondary, metrics (e.g length of stay until adoption) that improved our operations and the care we gave our animal guests. I am proud of these accomplishments, but it has caused me to reflect on the importance of goals, strategy, and leadership in a more general sense.

In both the non-profit and start-up worlds (some claim many of my startups are non-profits! J), understanding your goals is a critical element in success. Goals must be meaningful to the organization and actionable. And have corresponding metrics that match those goals.

This seems simple, but in several of my companies, this has proved exceeding difficult. Many metrics follow results by too wide a gap to be actionable. In many cases, revenue is such a metric. But in almost every case, there are a handful of “value drivers,” those metrics that truly derive the value and health of the business. For example, in a telecoms consumer services business (like one a ran earlier in my career), the key value drivers were, (1) cost of customer acquisition; (2) average revenue per customer; and (3) churn. For each business type, these will be different.

The power of setting a good goal, understanding your value drivers/metrics, and having a strategy to maximize those value drivers and fulfill the goal is the path to success.