Vanity Metrics – Corporate America

Not all graphs, reports, and metrics are created equal…

Often times, we find ourselves in a situation where managment will ask for a report or graph on some specific “information”. More often than not, we don’t question and create the report. I’ve made it a personal goal and I still carry this out today, to challenge the person requesting the report.

  • Who will be using the report?
  • How will this report be used?
  • What value will the report bring?
  • Can decisions be made with the report?
  • Lastly, if the report doesn’t convert the data into information, I’ll call that out as well and challenge the request.

It’s very common for folks to request a report on data, not information, that quantifies something.  A report or metric should be something that is meaningful and action can be taken upon.  The one thing that bothers me about reports is that they are often created for someone that looks at them and then throws it in the trash can.  A report should be something that is compelling, informative, and action can be taken.

Just like goals, reporting should also be SMART.

Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Furthermore, there is a difference between data and information.

  • Data – Data is raw, unorganized facts that need to be processed. Data can be something simple and seemingly random and useless until it is organized.
  • Information – When data is processed, organized, structured or presented in a given context so as to make it useful, it is called Information.


How are you requesting and using reports?

I’m at the end of the post but I should probably describe what a vanity metric is… “Actionable metrics can lead to informed business decisions and subsequent action  These are in contrast to ‘vanity metrics’ – measurements that give “the rosiest picture possible” but do not accurately reflect the key drivers of a business.” Source:

My ask: before you request a report, please be sure that you can take action upon it.

Lastly, how are you requesting and using reports?

Add your email to the list and you'll get new blog posts and other witty content sent directly to your inbox.