September 2009

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


Going Critical to Rev Up Business

Any business or individual can fall into the dreaded comfort zone, often without knowing it, until it’s knee-deep in lackluster performance.

Too often in the game of business, critical performance objectives become blurred or overshadowed by other seemingly urgent matters. Of greater concern, when business seems to be “chugging along” nicely, leadership often falls into a comfort zone and allows its eye to move from the business ball.

The one non-negotiable responsibility of every business leader is to drive growth. That means keeping your managers and team focused on what’s important. Strategically, this means focusing on your critical performance numbers.

When it comes to the performance of your business, what are your critical numbers? Of course, there are revenues and profits. But what are the exact numbers and percentages you’re shooting for? In what time frame? Isolate your thinking to what’s measurable. What are the specific key drivers that energize your business and focus employees on achieving performances that, when achieved, drive business growth?

As leader of the business, you must give serious thought to defining your critical numbers, because what is critical to you is the energy that inspires and empowers your business. An old business axiom says it best: “You can’t control what you don’t measure.”

So what exactly is a critical number? The Great Game of Business, the educational conference inspired by the book of the same name (, defines a critical number as “an operational or financial measure that defines winning for your organization for a specific period of time, usually 12 months.” Examples of critical numbers are sales, net profit, gross margin, payroll percentage, inventory turns, client retention rates, etc.

Your beginning critical number strategy should be limited to approximately three critical numbers that will produce the most immediate, dramatic and measurable results.

The first step in driving your critical numbers is to know the rules, and teach them to managers and team members. Everyone must understand the game and be locked into a sense of urgency in driving the critical numbers.

Step two is keeping score. Business is a game, and keeping score is a non-negotiable element of driving your critical numbers. Depending on the nature of your business, daily or weekly scoreboard updates are a must. Make the scoreboards fun — don’t just post or update them; hold quick huddles with each update, to attach energy and focus to the process.

The last step in driving your critical numbers is to provide a stake in the outcome. The stake can be a team bonus, prizes, special privileges, profit sharing, etc.

Going critical by defining and driving your critical numbers is an awesome strategy to energize and focus the performance of your business. So go critical, and enjoy the ride.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. He’s author of Fast Forward, and a new book, No-Compromise Leadership, published by DC Press and is available at For more information go to You can email Neil at