4 Uncomfortable Truths About Getting Great KPIs

by Stacey Barr |

Most managers and executives will never have truly transformational performance measures because they aren’t prepared to pay the price for them. The price isn’t a consultant’s invoice, or a training registration fee, or a swanky dashboard. The price is discomfort. And for many, it would seem, this price is simply too high.

Are you prepared to be uncomfortable in order to truly understand the performance results you should be responsible for, to measure them meaningfully, and to hear what they have to say about how things really are?

Here are the four most uncomfortable experiences you and your colleagues will have to endure, if you really are going to get the kind of performance measures that will transform performance.

Uncomfortable Truth #1: Waffly, pompous, political goals and objectives have to go.

Every strategic plan I’ve ever read (and there have been a lot over the last 20 years, let me tell you) contain goals or objectives that mean next to nothing because of how vaguely they’ve been worded. Weasel words are the biggest culprit.

For some reason, writing clear, specific and measurable goals just seems too hard, especially for executives. If you really want to achieve those goals, you have to go to the very uncomfortable place of writing what you really mean by them.

Uncomfortable Truth #2: Most of your performance measures suck.

There are lots of performance measures that sound like these: ‘Win Customer Excellence Award’. ‘Implement Super Exciting Project by the end of the year’. ‘Reduce Customer Complaints’.

Reeeally??? These are not performance measures. They’re lame excuses for something to replace white space in the KPI column in the strategic plan. It won’t be easy, and it will take some discipline, but you really do have to raise the bar on your choice of measures. It’s not difficult, it just means doing something more sensible than brainstorming.

Uncomfortable Truth #3: Comparing this month to last month is an archaic and inappropriate way to monitor performance.

Finance analysts are not statisticians. They look at numbers very differently: as though each number was an exact measurement of reality. And in the case of performance measures, finance experts look at them the wrong way.

You’ve inherited the legacy of making month-to-month comparisons from how finance experts taught you to look at your financial statements. But if you want to really know what performance is doing, and if it’s truly improving in a sustainable way, then you have to learn how to look at data the way statisticians do.

Uncomfortable Truth #4: It’s not about you. Your performance measures are about the system.

People take performance measures so personally! It’s not entirely their fault, of course. They’ve had years of being beaten over the head with them. But it’s time to be the bigger person, and end the cycle of blame.

Performance measures only work when they measure the capability and impact of business processes. It’s up to you to use performance measures to guide the continual repair and redesign of business processes that aren’t doing what you need them to do. Yep, it’s much harder than pointing a finger at someone else. And yep, you may not get ‘their’ support to do it. But performance won’t improve otherwise. It’s up to you.


Did I offend you? If I did, then you just aren’t ready to do performance measurement properly. For you, it’s probably still a tick-in-the-box bureaucratic hoop you jump through. You can vent your vexations on the blog…

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