3 Tests of the Measurability of Your Goals

by Stacey Barr |

Most strategy just isn’t measurable. That means your goals or objectives probably need a little work before you should bother asking that question “how do you measure that?”.

In PuMP we use a technique called the Measurability Tests, and there are five of them that will test and tweak your goal until it becomes measurable. Here are three of those Measurability Tests. Use these three tests on your current goals, to assess how easily you will find meaningful performance measures for them.

Test 1: Is it too action-oriented?

tasmanian devil

Your goal won’t be very measurable if it’s written as an action, like these:

  • Provide advice, counselling and support to new and existing businesses (Nottawasaga Futures)
  • To provide immediate emotional support to individuals at times of crisis (Lifeline WA)

When you attempt to measure a goal that is articulated as an action, you end up measuring how much action is happening. Useful performance measures tell you how much things have improved, as a result of your action. We all know that action doesn’t guarantee better results.

Instead of writing your goals as actions, write the results that you are trying to achieve. Of course you still need to know what action you’ll take to achieve that result, but performance is about the result, not the activity. The above examples might then become results like these:

  • Local businesses earn consistent profits sooner through our services.
  • Our clients feel confident that they can do what’s needed to get through their crisis.

Don’t confuse performance management with project management!

Test 2: Is it vague and weasely?

i am weasel

Your goal won’t be very measurable if it’s written in non-specific language, like these:

  • To lead and shape effective strategic alliances with business development organisations to deliver high impact outcomes for SA enterprises and industry (Innovate SA)
  • Foster opportunities for social interaction in our community to enable greater participation in community life (Baw Baw Shire Council)

You’ll struggle to find meaningful measures for weasely goals like these, because ‘weasel words’ like efficient, effective, sustainable and quality are not specific enough. You must be able to describe the change you’d observe if your goal was achieved. For the above examples, de-weasely might produce these results:

  • Our collaborations with our strategic partners ensure that any SA enterprise gets innovation help when they want it. The innovation help provided by our strategic partners increases the international marketshare of SA enterprises.
  • The proportion of Baw Baw Shire Council residents who regularly spend time joining in local community group activities increases.

If you can’t observe it in some way, you can’t measure it.

Test 3: Is it multi-barreled?

yosemite sam

Your goal won’t be measurable if it’s written as several goals smooshed together to look like one goal, like these:

  • Employees are committed, trusted, valued, safe and accountable (Sydney Catchment Authority)
  • To achieve sufficient profit to finance our company growth, create value for our shareholders and provide the resources we need to achieve our other corporate objectives (HP)

You’ll not find one meaningful measure for multi-barreled goals that really are about several different performance results. You need to unbundle your goal into distinctly separate performance results. For the above examples, this might look like:

  • Employees are committed to providing an excellent customer experience. Employees feel trusted to make the right decisions. Employees feel their contributions are valued by their managers. Employees go home safely at the end of each work day. Employees take the lead in setting their own goals, monitoring their progress toward those goals, and taking action to achieve those goals.
  • Net profit continuously grows. Shareholders receive a higher return on investment. Cash flow meets the resource needs to meet corporate objectives.

Measures are evidence of specific results, and so each unique result needs its own measure.

TAKE ACTION:

Look at your current strategic goals, or departmental goals, or team goals. What kind of measures do they have? Now apply these three tests to see how measurable those goals truly are. Try and improve the way those goals are articluated, and then consider if the existing measures really are meaningful, and what ideas you have for better measures.

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  1. John Chan says:

    Hi Stacey,

    I must be among the fortunate few who has benefited from your power-pack articles on KPI driven results.

    The latest on “goal measurements’ is extremely useful and sets the framework for improving productivity in my work area
    related to Contact centre management and customer support. We are an OTA (Online Travel Agent) and we facilitate the
    entire front-to-back end integration between technology and customers’ needs and requirements.

    The focus on measurable performance results is the make or break rule between delivering superior service levels and those of the also-rans!

    Thanks a lot + with regards.

    John WF CHAN

  2. norman bernard says:

    Hi Stacey
    I have found your material fun to read and very practical.I am a fan! But I am easily confused with jargon – words like goals, visions, missions. Worse still is a phrase like “a current strategic goal”. I could write a short book on what that might be but with little conviction. I only understand an “objective”.
    An objective is “something that would make you happy”.”It is a place to arrive at”.If you can measure what makes you happy, so much the better.
    Actions you plan to take to achieve an objective are elements of your strategy. “Actions are steps on the road you must travel.”You should also try to measure these steps. They are costly and risky. So, as the Meercat says on some current UK TV advertising “Simples!” (the ending formely known as “Please, KISS”).

  3. Stacey Barr says:

    John – I so agree that good performance measurement really can separate you from the also-rans. I don’t understand why so many people don’t aim higher than they do.

  4. Stacey Barr says:

    Norman, yes, jargon is a problem in our field of performance management. I’m yet to find a fantastic terminology resource that the majority are willing to agree on. Everyone is still interested in their own terminology definitions. Until we can all agree on one, we’ll have to try and tolerate the confusion. Asking questions and sharing our own explanations is therefore important. Thanks for sharing yours!

  5. Wendimagegnehu says:

    Is Accessibility weasle word?

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Yes it is. Who needs to access what? What defines successful access? What are the modes of access? In what context? If you asked me how to measure accessibility, I’d have no clue what evidence I should be looking for that would convince there was more or less of it. Like all weasel words, it will mean different things and manifest in different ways depending on the context. So you’ll find more meaningful ways of measuring it if you can put it into plain language (ideally that a 10 year old might have a hope of understanding).

  6. Jenny says:

    I know you are not a fan of the OKR methodology, but isn’t OKRs a way to tease out results from ill-defined goals? For instance:

    Vague goal: Make our delivery process outstanding (there is a weasel)

    Key results:
    a. Shipment time decreases
    b. The number of shipments to the right recipient increases
    c. The number of damaged shipments decreases

    In this respect the OKR methodology is very similar to step 2.2 (tease out the implied performance results) for making a strategy measurable

    • Stacey Barr says:

      The trouble I have with OKRs is that the definitions of and differences between “Objectives” and “Key Results” is unclear and inconsistently interpreted and applied. I’ve not seen a clear definition anywhere. Some people will do as you have done in your example, Jenny, and treat objectives as we do goals in PuMP, and treat the key results as measures or metrics, as we do in PuMP. But others treat the key results as actions, or just lower-order goals. So one of my problems with OKRs is this lack of definition (plus their inability to link and align like we do with the Results Map in PuMP). Another problem is that, unlike PuMP, there is no instructional process to build good ones. In PuMP the measurability tests and measure design technique help people create meaningful goals and measures with more deliberate thought. There is no such structured guidance in OKRs, which is probably why we see such huge variation in how they are written and how useful they are.

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