#28 Tackling 7 Common Objections to People Engaging in Performance Measures and KPIs

August 18, 2009 by Stacey Barr

We want people to buy in to KPIs, metrics and measures, because it’s through people that measuring performance becomes improving performance. But they don’t buy in because it’s boring, it’s often used as a big stick, and it’s not easy to meaningfully measure what matters.

What can you do?

Short of overhauling the culture, you can be an Assumption Smasher. Listen to what people say about measuring, note the assumption they’re making, and then diplomatically smash that assumption into smithereens! (Delicately, of course.)

Here are some of the most common excuses, rebuttals and ignorant truisms that people make about measuring, and how you can identify the assumption, and get the smashing underway.

“I don’t need to measure because I already know what’s going on.”

The assumption is that what they are getting is an unbiased, complete and detailed snapshot of current performance and enough detail to detect small but real shifts in performance. Unbiased, complete and sufficiently detailed. Can anyone really get that without data? How exactly do they know?

“I’ve got real work to do!”

The assumption is that everything they are doing now is more important than measuring the performance of what they are doing. Interesting. Why are we busier than we know we should be? Doing things less than optimally or doing things that don’t need to be done at all are often the culprits. That’s what measuring helps us diagnose and test.

“The only measure I need is the bottom line.”

The assumption is that you only need to measure the end result, and not the drivers of that result. The bottom line is information that’s too little, too late. What performance measures do is give you the warnings and the clues about what’s likely to happen, so you can make sure the results you need are the results you create, without wasting any time or resources.

“Measuring? Ick, how boring.”

The assumption is that measuring is about monotonously collecting data and compiling spreadsheets swimming with numbers, then reporting all that to someone else. But when people set a few measures of what matters to them, create some simple and clear time series graphs, and collaborate to make the line on the graph move closer to the target, they experience purpose, motivation and satisfaction in a job well done. Do they value the measures they’re producing?

“But we don’t have the data!”

The assumption is that the data you have is the only data you should ever need, or can ever have. Rest assured, no organisation gets the data right, first go. You get the right data when you ask the right questions. And well chosen measures are an expression of the right questions.

“It’s never worked in the past.”

The assumption is that the past ways of doing measurement are the only ways. Ask them what about the process failed before, and what they would have done differently in hindsight. When the causes are clear, they can be fixed.

“This measurement thing is just another management fad.”

Honestly! This assumption is that measuring hasn’t been around that long, and is likely to pass because it’s just for fun and giggles. Um, have they heard of Noah? Measuring was one of the earliest tools developed by humans, from cubits used as a unit of measurement to track the heights of Nile floods in ancient Egypt, to motions of the planets and moon to measure time. Humans have always wanted to measure what matters because it makes work easier.

Beware What Lurks Beneath Some of These Excuses…

You need to raise and test people’s assumptions about performance measurement delicately, because beneath the surface can be some touchy nerves. They may be fearful of the transparency, of losing their jobs or losing status or resources. But be prepared to test these assumptions too, if they do bubble to the surface, but tread carefully.

TAKING ACTION:
Look out for the very next time someone says something that reveals an assumption they’re making, which could be holding them back from buying in to measuring performance. Practice asking respectful questions to understand their assumptions and offer them another way of thinking about it.

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  1. Ramiro says:

    Dear Stacey,
    I believe that the first reason why people object to engage in PM measures and KPIs is the lack of clarity at the top managing levels. If managers state clearly upfront what the key indicators are and their relation to process variables, their direct reports and the people at lower levels will appreciate "why" management is pursuing such and such KPIs. Therefor, if managers do not know the processes that they are responsible for (what kind of delays, defects, and impact on cost) it is highly probable that they will cause confusion in their people.
    Hope this contributes a little to the theme. – Ramiro Molina.

  2. Wade Stoddart says:

    I have heard all the objection comments about KPI’s listed above while implementing my first Six-Sigma project. The production area that was selected had no data on its performance because it was viewed as a ‘Set-It and Forget It’ area. Basically the area was viewed as a low priority that would have no impact to the productivity of the plant. (They were so wrong!)It was real fight when I challenged the status qou and stated the process could be improved. The opinions didn’t change until the project was almost completed and the results showed tangible production improvements and significant savings. That was 6 years ago and even now that I have moved on to bigger things I heard they still produce a monthly KPI on that area. The lesson….sometimes you have to prove the value of the KPI before opinions change.

  3. Stacey Barr says:

    Wade, you are so right. The quicker we can show the real value of measuring something (that is, IMPROVEMENT) the sooner people can reframe in their minds what measuring really is all about and give it their support.

    Ramiro – yes I agree with you too. Managers needs to be clear about their strategy and be intimately involved along with their staff in designing and deciding the KPIs that will be most useful.

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