Key performance indicators that offer important insights into your company
Recently, I assisted a $10-million-a-year, Chicago-based, family-owned company that was anticipating significant growth. The company’s problem was that managers did not know what data they should be tracking to illuminate their operating trends and performance.
The firm’s officers also did not feel they had a handle on their key financial indicators. Once inside the company, I determined that we should look first at the performance indicators, and secondly at the financial indicators, to gauge how well the firm was performing in terms of productivity.
The company was at a point where the second generation had begun to assume leadership. The son, who had a track record of success, had been brought in to learn the business, so he could eventually take the reins.
However, his background did not include finance. The business was starting to grow rapidly due to the son’s efforts. I found the firm had a clean operation, but wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated to try to compile these performance indicators.
Firm managers knew they were doing well from a cash-flow standpoint, but had no measurement system to see if they were better or worse vis-à-vis the previous quarter or previous year. In short, because they didn’t know what trends were taking place, they didn’t know if the firm was trending positively or negatively.
In measuring key performance indicators, you first define the indicators you want to gauge. Some indicators can be compiled in relation to sales, others in relation to employees. Then you line them up quarter to quarter, and month to month, and have a year-to-date measure as well. This way, you learn whether the indicators are moving positively or negatively year to year, and within years.
Back at that company, I asked for the last three years of financial statements and operating statistics, to learn how much was being sold to create the revenues, margins and profits. Having ascertained that what was being sold was reports, I needed to learn the volume of unit sales, and simply concentrated on the number of reports sold. I thought about what happens from the time a customer orders their report to the time the report is issued.
The numbers helped me put together some key indicators to start measuring the company’s productivity and efficiency. As a result of identifying these key performance indicators, the company managers were now well informed, and the indicators showed their company was trending positive.
Here’s the takeaway from this success story. In a fast-growth environment, you must understand what you’re measuring, and what it means.
That’s what key performance indicators provided for this business, and what they will provide for yours. Next time, I’ll show you, again through the example of this company, how to generate and track key performance indicators.
There have been several in-depth studies that analyzed the financial performance of hundreds of companies around the world. Insights were provided by these companies into the key metrics and strategies used by the best performers. The following were found to be the most sustainable value creators, and where focus is concentrated in those companies successfully creating value. The key numbers to watch are:
- Net income
- Cash flow from operations
- Total assets
- Total liabilities
- Total equity
Using these six key numbers, four ratios are tracked and trended:
- Asset turnover (revenue/assets)-the higher the turnover, the better utilization of assets experienced.
- Profit margin (net income/revenue)-the greater the margin, the more profits available to fund growth.
- Cash-flow yield (cash flow from operations/net income)-the higher the yield, the more success enjoyed in managing working capital (ie., current assets minus current liabilities).
- Debt-to-equity (total liabilities/total equity)-the higher the ratio, the more of other peoples’ money (leverage) being used to finance growth.
Successful organizations do well on all these numbers. If you are not doing well on the ratios, then drilling down into the six key numbers is needed.
The entire management team needs to understand how the ratios and underlying key numbers connect to value creation.
Standards of performance can be created by looking at historical numbers over time, which will reveal ranges and trends. Then look for comparable measures within your industry to see how you fare against industry peers. Follow this up by setting some annual targets for 1 to 5 years. In other words, “do what the big dogs do” whether you are local or national in scope, and whether you are for-profit or not-for-profit.
This sets the discipline for making good decisions with the goal being to achieve outstanding long-term return on investment.
Your present performance measures may have defects; and there may be no quick remedies. CFO-Pro can provide a strategic perspective on your financial performance measures. If you are interested in connecting the strategy of your company with the financial reports, and to speak to how your company intends to create value, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 630-269-7646.