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"Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement."

John Doerr

Venture Capitalist and Author of "Measure What Matters"

Understanding Lead and Lag Metrics

posted in Business Coaching

Understanding Lead and Lag Metrics: Your Key to Rowing Your Business to Success

In the world of business, metrics are like the various measurements used in Olympic rowing. They provide crucial information about your performance and progress, guiding you toward your goals. Understanding the difference between lead and lag metrics can be the difference between smoothly rowing across the finish line or being left behind in the competition.

Lead Metrics: The Early Indicators

Lead metrics are your early indicators, much like the metrics you monitor during a rowing race to gauge performance and make real-time adjustments. These metrics are predictive indicators that provide early signals about your progress toward achieving a goal. They measure the actions or inputs that drive future performance, much like monitoring your strokes per minute or split times during a race.

Nature: Proactive and controllable. Lead metrics can be influenced directly by actions and adjustments in real time, allowing you to steer your boat with precision.

Purpose: To allow timely interventions and course corrections, improving the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes. Think of lead metrics as the adjustments you make to your stroke rate and power early in the race to ensure a strong finish.

Rowing Examples:

  • Strokes Per Minute (SPM): The number of strokes taken per minute, indicating the rowing intensity.
  • Split Time per 500m: The time it takes to row each 500 meters, showing pace and efficiency.
  • Boat Speed: The speed at which the boat is travelling, indicating performance in real-time.

Business Examples:

  • Sales Calls Per Day: The number of sales calls made each day, indicating the intensity of sales efforts.
  • Training Hours: The total hours spent on employee training, showing the investment in team development.
  • Lead Generation: The amount of website traffic or lead generation activities, reflecting the effectiveness of marketing efforts.
  • Client Outreach: The number of new clients contacted, demonstrating the expansion of the client base.

Lag Metrics: The Final Outcomes

Lag metrics, on the other hand, are your final outcomes. These are outcome indicators that reflect the final results of your actions. They measure success or failure after the fact, providing a clear picture of your overall performance.

Nature: Reactive and often uncontrollable in the short term. Lag metrics are the results of previous actions, much like the final time on the clock after a race is over.

Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of strategies and actions taken in achieving the overall goals. Lag metrics are your post-race analysis, helping you understand what worked, what didn't, and where to improve next time.

Rowing Examples:

  • Final Race Time: The total time it took to complete the race.
  • Relative Position: Your placement in the race compared to competitors.
  • Overall Ranking: The ranking achieved based on the race outcome.

Business Examples:

  • Quarterly Revenue: The total sales revenue generated in a quarter, indicating overall financial performance.
  • Customer Satisfaction Index: The scores reflecting customer satisfaction levels, showing how well customer needs are being met.
  • Market Share Percentage: The proportion of the market controlled, indicating competitive positioning.
  • Annual Profit: The total profit earned in a year, reflecting the overall profitability of the business.

Key Differences: Timing, Control, and Perspective


  • Lead Metrics: Provide information on progress and can be tracked during the process, like monitoring your split times during a race.
  • Lag Metrics: Provide information on outcomes, which are typically assessed after the process is complete, akin to checking the final race time.


  • Lead Metrics: Can be influenced and controlled directly through immediate actions, just as you can adjust your rowing technique and intensity in real-time.
  • Lag Metrics: Are the results of past actions and cannot be changed once they are recorded, much like the final race time which is set in stone once you cross the finish line.

Predictive vs. Retrospective:

  • Lead Metrics: Serve as early indicators that predict future performance, similar to how monitoring your boat speed and strokes per minute can predict race outcomes.
  • Lag Metrics: Serve as retrospective indicators that show past performance, like reviewing your final race time and relative position.

Applying Metrics in Your Business Race

Just as a successful rowing team relies on both their real-time performance metrics and their final race outcomes, your business needs a balance of lead and lag metrics to succeed.


  • Lead Metric: Number of sales calls made per week.
  • Lag Metric: Total sales revenue for the quarter.

Customer Service:

  • Lead Metric: Number of customer service training hours.
  • Lag Metric: Customer satisfaction score.


  • Lead Metric: Number of new leads generated through a campaign.
  • Lag Metric: Conversion rate from leads to customers.

Rowing Your Way to Business Success

Understanding the distinction between lead and lag metrics is like mastering the balance between technique and power in rowing. It helps in developing a balanced approach to performance management, ensuring both proactive measures to drive success and retrospective analysis to understand and learn from outcomes.

So, grab your metrics, monitor your progress, and keep an eye on the final results. By effectively managing both lead and lag metrics, you'll row your business to new heights and ensure a winning performance every time.

Remember, in business as in rowing, it's not just about the power of your strokes, but the precision and timing that ultimately lead to success. Keep rowing strong, stay focused on your metrics, and you'll navigate your way to victory.