How to Kill Off Your Zombie KPIs

February 25, 2014 by Stacey Barr

Do you have KPIs or measures that are lurking lifelessly and in large numbers in your performance reports? No-one ever goes near them, and they refuse to die despite all the usual arguments to get rid of them. You have Zombie KPIs.

Zombie KPIs or measures are the tragic product of a few things gone wrong in the performance measurement process:

  1. Data availability: Just because the data is there, people felt it should be used, and so they set up measures that use it.
  2. Legacy measures: A lot of ‘Joes’ and ‘Janes’ once wanted something measured, and it still is today (even though Joe and Jane have long since left the organisation).
  3. Brainstorming: People in your organisation are fantastic at brainstorming measures.
  4. Benchmarking: You’ve researched all the KPI and measure libraries and lists and benchmarks, and have collated and measured all the ones that relate to your sector or industry or function.

Let’s explore how you can kill off the Zombie KPIs once and for all.

KILL METHOD #1: Take aim.

Sometimes what you think is a performance measure isn’t really. A quick and easy way to ditch the dead ones is to put them through a checklist of criteria. If they don’t pass the test, it will give you a strong rationale to kill them.

KILL METHOD #2: Look for their weakness.

If you can’t describe convincingly how a particular performance measure provides useful evidence of a goal or important result, kill it. A great test for how well your existing measures align to your goals and results is to list them, then rank them by strength and feasibility. Follow the steps of measure design, and list your Zombie KPIs at step 4.

KILL METHOD #3: Protect the real performance measures.

A great tool to protect the measures you need to keep is the PuMP Results Map. First, you visually map your strategic and operational results, from top to bottom. Second, you write next to each result the names of the measures that best evidence that result. What doesn’t easily and obviously fit in the map: kill!

KILL METHOD #4: Shoot on site.

Don’t bother with social pleasantries and bureaucratic hoops. If you know it’s a Zombie KPI just shoot it there and then!! Stop reporting it and see if anyone notices. I doubt they will.

TAKE ACTION:

Take a look at your performance reports and see if you can find any measure or KPI presentation that is violating the two principles for understanding data. What risks does this expose your decision-making to?

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  1. Marty says:

    Having a daughter (24) who is a zombie fan, I know a thing or two about zombies. Combining that with my expertise in metrics, I think I am qualified to comment on this post.

    1. You may have left out an important characteristic of zombies (and zombie KPIs) – they eat your brains and then you become a zombie too. If you’re not careful your zombie KPIs will not only continue on, but they will take up precious brain cycles keeping them going. If they really get a hold of you they’ll make you think these KPIs are worth protecting. Mostly because you’ve invested time and energy in them. Don’t Let Them Eat Your Brain!

    2. On your suggestion to “shoot on site” – Zombie Land taught us that you can’t just shoot a zombie KPI, you should remember the second rule of Zombieland, “double-tap.” In other words, don’t simply shoot it on site and turn your back. It will get up and chase you down the hall screaming. Put an extra bullet in it. Ensure you actually kill it. To do this you’ll have to talk to the owners of the metric and explain why it needs to be put down. You don’t want it coming back later!

    Nice (timely) post!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      You crack me up Marty! This is a tremendous addition to the article!

      P.S. I do now recall the double-tap. That was an hilarious movie – I’ve watched it twice.

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