3 Benefits Of Slowing Down When Developing Your KPIs

by Stacey Barr

One of the main reasons that our performance measurement practice fails to produce good KPIs is that we rush through it to quickly.

A tortoise. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/au/portfolio/globalp

There are several ways that we rush our KPI and performance measure development:

  • We think it’s as simple as brainstorming a bunch of measures, metrics or KPIs
  • We copy what our industry peers are measuring
  • We buy an off-the-shelf KPI collection
  • We work from the data we can easily access
  • We default to milestones and vague qualitative statements as KPIs

None of these methods ever produces a meaningful set of measures that are quantitative, aligned to strategy and have the buy-in and support of the people who have a stake in them. It’s these methods that have caused the obscene waste of time and effort in reporting useless information, and the deep cynicism most people feel for measuring performance.

I’ve been watching this play out in hundreds of organisations, over 25 years now. The only approach I’ve ever seen work is one where people take a deliberate method, and practiced it. My virtual motorcycle coach, Fast Eddy of Motojitsu, has the motto “shut up and practice”. He believes there is no excuse for incompetent or unsafe riding, and the key to mastery is regular practice. I feel exactly the same about practicing performance measurement skills. But to do that, we have to slow down, break it out into steps, and deliberately practice each one until we master it.

Often I’ll hear the same story from my new clients:

  • “We skipped the step on sensory evidence to save time, but we didn’t end up with very relevant measures.”
  • “Our leaders wanted to keep the weasel words, but we still cannot find measures they agree to.”
  • “We kind of rushed through the Should-Can-Will test, and we’ve ended up with a very complex and overwhelming Results Map.”

They were all innocently trying to save time, to get their KPIs done quickly, to get back to their ‘real work’. But these shortcuts never work, and end up costing much more time than doing it right the first time.

Slow down your measurement practice. Take time to do each step deliberately and with your full attention. Trust the process and follow it (if someone has created a method from 25 years of research and development and testing with thousands of people, then they might actually know something about what works and what doesn’t). Notice, accept and learn from your mistakes.

And the reward for slowing down is that you’ll come up to speed much sooner:

  1. Instead of spinning wheels through multiple iterations to arrive at a list of measures most people can agree on, you’ll find 80% of the right measures in your first iteration.
  2. Instead of struggling with a list of measures that are too vague or too complex to easily implement, you’ll have only selected measures for which you have an actionable implementation plan.
  3. Instead of playing political and power games to get everyone to own and use the measures they barely signed off on, you’ll have everyone more deeply understanding the results worth measuring and feeling excited about the influence they discover they have to improve those results.

It’s the perfect example of the tortoise winning the race, while the hare wastes time rushing, going off on tangents, and racing around in circles.

The fast way to get the KPIs you need is to slow down your practice of your performance measurement approach.
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  1. Ian Stanbury says:

    Hi Stacey. As a fellow motorcycle rider, the riding example continues because it is also true to say that in order for a smooth and safe ride or manoeuvre, you must be looking in the direction in which you wish to go. In other words, you must be aiming for the result you are trying to achieve, e.g. navigating a bend or making a u-turn. If you look down at the front wheel, you will wobble, fall over or crash into something you didn’t see. If you constantly keep your eyes scanning where you wish to head, the ride will be smoother and you will be able to navigate around any obstacles in your way. However, beware of ‘target fixation’! If you see a hazard, such as a road sign on a bend, don’t focus on the sign because you’ll hit it! Keeping your eyes on the result whilst monitoring signals such as road conditions and instrument panel is just another performance measurement system but one that as a rider, you need to be good at or it could end in disaster. Ride safe, keep the shiny side up!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Ian thanks for building on the metaphor. Forgetting about the result and fixating on targets are certainly big problems in performance measurement, and we can’t remind each other often enough to practice the right things so we avoid ‘crashing’.

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