5 Ways to Make Transparency Work With KPIs

by Stacey Barr |

With KPIs, comes transparency. But because most people fear that measures will be used to judge or compare, it’s hard to get transparency to work.


There’s a glass wall between the waiting room and the workshop at the windscreen shop where I took my new car to have it’s – you guessed it – windscreen replaced last week. I could watch the whole process, if I wanted, while sipping as many espressos as I fancied. Clearly, they aren’t afraid of their customers seeing how things happen “backstage”. They have nothing to hide. I wonder if that’s because:

  1. They clearly care about their customers. They gave plenty of time to help me understand what would happen to my precious new car, and to explain exactly what I should expect with an aftermarket windscreen compared to the factory one. No question was too silly for them to answer with care.
  2. They have defined processes. Staff moved through each step, from when I entered the reception to when I drove off, with proficiency and ease. It meant they had the bandwidth to be friendly and courteous in each interaction.
  3. They promised what they know they can deliver. The promise to me was completion in 2 hours, but the delivery was only 90 minutes. My expectations were virtually guaranteed to be met.
  4. They admit mistakes without hesitation or fuss. That seems to be because they already have the solution. They had quoted based on some additional parts for my car that they didn’t have in stock. But they didn’t end up needing those parts, so they explained the mistake and how my bill would now be $50 less.
  5. The technicians directly interact with customers. The people who did the windscreen replacement were the people who spoke with me about what would happen and gave me updates as it did happen.

Transparency means we can see through to what’s really happening. When we talk about transparency in organisational performance, it means seeing through to if and how well the organisation is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s the KPIs or performance measures that replace the opaque walls with clear glass, so it’s possible to see what’s really happening.

That’s confronting and scary for many people. So much so, that KPIs are avoided, or only the good stuff is measured. But when results are buried in darkness, they will only get worse. To paraphrase authors of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense, Pfeffer and Sutton, if we want to be a high performing organisation then we have to decide that we want to be told the truth and not be told only the good news.

We can draw parallels from the windscreen shop’s transparency, to bolster ourselves in the face of the transparency forced by our KPIs:

  1. When we care about our stakeholders honestly, they can tell, and they won’t be judgmental or untrusting.
  2. When our processes are deliberately designed, we know we have influence over the results we deliver, and can deliver confidently, continuing to care for our customer or stakeholder.
  3. When we know our capability, we know what we can promise. And then as we continually improve our capability, we can deliver beyond expectations. Stakeholders will only be surprised in a good way.
  4. When we own mistakes, we can own the solutions. Stakeholders want to hear solutions, not problems. When they hear solutions, they know they can trust that we are caring for them.
  5. When we involve our stakeholders in what’s happening, they feel part of the process and not like the process is being done to them.

Transparency is important – even essential – if we care about high performance, or even just better performance. But to work, it needs to be framed in clarity, curiosity and inclusiveness. While ever it’s framed in ‘checking up on’ and ‘catching out’, our fear of it will always get in the way of knowing the truth we really need to know before we can make any real improvements in performance.


Is your organisation battling with the need for and fear of transparency? How are you dealing with it? Is it working?

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