You may have never heard of the term, but you've definitely encountered "vanity metrics" before. A vanity metric is a measure that makes you feel good, but does not actually mean you’re accomplishing anything.
The term was invented by Eric Ries, who writes about startup companies. And because Eric Ries's audience skews toward technology, most of the standard vanity metrics are around web applications. Things like number of visitors to a website, as opposed to user engagement or revenue per visit.
Vanity metrics are everywhere, though. For example, suppose you were responsible for media relations at an organization and your primary metric was numbers of press releases issued. That's a vanity metric. Or, suppose you are in sales, and your primary metric is number of customers contacted. Vanity metric.
You might wonder why vanity metrics are so common. First, they're superficially easy to measure; it's far easier to just tally things up than to assign meaning to a tally. Second, they make you feel like you're making progress.
That second reason, the false sense of progress, is what makes vanity metrics so dangerous. By relying on vanity metrics, you are missing key signals in your organization that prevent you from improving or, worse, that lead to avoidable failure.
What vanity metrics do you see in your workplace?