How to Increase Urgency to Solve a Red Critical Number

By Patrick Thean

dateThu, May 14, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

A Critical Number is a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that helps you keep track of the most important fire-alarmthing for the quarter or year.   For example, I’d bet this quarter Apple’s critical number is the number of Apple watches sold. It’s where the company is currently focused on spending their time and energy. So, if it’s the most important thing for the company, why is it so often ignored when it turns red? It’s critical and it’s red, but why is there no urgency to solve the problem?

I see this all the time when I visit companies. They have critical numbers that are red, but no one is doing anything to fix it! Shouldn’t everyone know what the critical number is, understand it and be working to make it better? Why is there a lack of urgency, or even apathy sometimes? 

With every company, I tend to find the same three typical reasons for critical numbers being red. First, they didn’t know it was red. Second, they know it’s red, but are scared to tell everyone or don’t know what to do. And, third, they are exhausted by continuously being faced with the same problem over and over. 

Here are some solutions I give my clients to solve this problem: 

  1. Present Timely and Meaningful Data

Use a 13 –Week Race™ dashboard to watch the trend of the KPI over the 13 weeks. Then make it public and make sure everyone can see it to eliminate the “I didn’t know” excuse.


  1. Create a Culture of Execution to Increase Performance

When you create a culture of execution and accountability, over time it will develop into a high performing team where everyone knows his or her role and responsibilities. Teach your team to recognize the problem and face the facts faster than your competition and to immediately start working on solutions. 

  1. Learn to Not Fear Red

The problem won’t go away or fix itself. The faster you highlight to the team that you need help, the faster the problem will be solved. 

  1. Begin With the End in Mind

Surprisingly, sometimes people don’t know why the critical number is so important. Often you’ll hear them say they had “more important” priorities to focus on. Whenever you set your critical number, whether it’s the beginning of the quarter or year, take the time to explain the importance of the critical number and ask people to repeat what they understood so you can be clear that everyone is on the same page. The critical number should always pass the hallway test, where if you ask any employee what the focus for the year or quarter is, they should all have the same response.

  1. Use Your Weekly Meeting

Instead of discussing status, use your weekly meeting to discuss and resolve the problem as a team. Especially if the critical number has been red for two or more weeks, it’s time to fight off “red fatigue” and focus to come up with ideas of things to change or do differently.

  1. Practice Clear Accountability

Make sure to always leave every planning meeting with a clear action plan of who is doing what when to ensure that each team member is aligned. 

For our Rhythm clients: Make sure you document these Action Items in Rhythm during your weekly meeting and to follow up with team members to make sure the work is being done.

If you maintain your rhythm of having a great week every single week, you can avoid this problem. However, it’s easy for even the most disciplined companies to get off track. All it takes is one red week, but what matters is how you take action. Use the 13 –Week Race™ dashboard to help you remain focused and take action every single week. Now, go fix that red critical number!


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Patrick Thean


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images