How To Measure Your Progress: What Zappos Can Teach You About Personal Achievement


In 1999, Tony Hsieh, an Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist was approached by Nick Swinmurn with a proposition: to sell shoes online.

Hsieh was skeptical; he didn’t believe shoes could be sold online, but Swinmurn persisted until Hsieh conceded.

In 2000, realising the startup’s potential, Tony became the CEO of Zappos, but under one condition: to create the most skilled customer-service team in the world.

The standard key performance indicator for customer-service success was the number of customer served per hour, but Hsieh wasn’t satisfied; he wanted one that was not only efficient, but made reps and customers happy.            

Instead, Tony began tracking the number of instances a customer-service representative went above and beyond the call of duty. In the CEO’s words, “delivering wow”.

One day, Hsieh would be wowed himself: on a dare, he anonymously phoned Zappos and asked a rep if he could order a pizza.

To his astonishment, he received a list of the five pizza parlours closest to his location that were still open.

The number of “wows” customer-service reps delivered didn’t go unnoticed; Zappos praised their work ethic and celebrated their loyalty to meeting customers’ needs.   

Tony’s unorthodox approach to measuring progress paid off: when Hsieh joined Zappos as the CEO in 2000, profits were $1.6 million. By 2009, revenues reached $1 billion.

What Are You Measuring in Your Life?

It’s likely you have goals and if you do, you’re using metrics to track your progress.

If you’re an entrepreneur and your goal is to turn over one million dollars in profit, you track your company’s sales. If you’re an athlete and your goal is to compete in the Olympics, you track your ranking. If you’re a student and you want to graduate from an Ivy League school, you track your grades.

Tracking metrics is useful; they help us ascertain what we’re improving in and what we’re not, identify sticking points and celebrate our successes. It’s simple: the things we measure are the things we improve in.

The problem is when we track metrics that are partially independent of our control – sales, rankings, grades – we can become dissatisfied with our progress, slow down, lose momentum and even give up.

As author Daniel Coyle writes in his book The Little Book of Talent:   

[. . .] they can distort priorities, bend us towards short-term outcomes and away from the learning process. [1]

It isn’t about earning, winning or graduating –it’s about learning how to develop competency in the long-term. It’s about constant and never-ending improvement. It’s about the Process.

Make a Scorecard for Progress

The solution is to track metrics that aren’t independent of your control. To measure your progress, correctly, choose a metric that’s fun, motivating and most importantly, reliable.

Your results aren’t important; showing up and taking action to the best of your ability is.

For example, if you’re a footballer (or soccer player for American readers) and want your team to win the championship, it’s not the score that measures your success, but the number of successful passes you and your teammates make.

If you’re a weight-watcher and want to lose 14 pounds, don’t concern yourself with not the number of pounds you should lose by your weekly weigh-in; count the number of days you successfully planned your meals in your diary or occasions you resisted temptation, instead.

If you’re an introvert and want to improve your dating skills, your progress isn’t dependent on the number of phone numbers pressed into your palm; it’s dependent on the number of instances you didn’t want to start a conversation – but still did.

Here, you set a precedent for what’s to be expected (think of it as a Commander’s Intent). You try and exceed yourself, daily and weekly because it’s fun. You inspire others. You lead by example.

As the saying goes, “You are what you count”. Is what you’re counting defining or defying you?


[1] Coyle, D. (2012) The Little Book of Talent, New York: Random House.


Danny Coyle for introducing me to Tony Hsieh and Zappos.