9 Rules of KPI Buy-in

by Stacey Barr |

I used to think that performance measurement was about the techniques of selecting, collecting, analysing, presenting, and interpreting data to inform decision making. It’s true that technique is an important part of the process, but I’ve been excited to learn that performance measurement is mostly about the people.

In particular, I learned that getting buy-in to KPIs is more about getting out of its way, rather than doing anything specific to make it happen. And getting out of the way of buy-in naturally growing is about following nine rules:

Rule #1: Don’t educate the team; hold the space for their discovery.

We start the performance measurement journey by respecting what Measures Team members already know, and we allow new learning to emerge. If team members feel apprehensive or self-conscious, or if they have divergent views about performance measurement, sharing and acknowledging these views is the essential first step toward a new shared vision of performance measurement.

Rule #2: Don’t dictate the team’s goals; help the team articulate them.

Our job is to help our Measures Teams explore and decide how their departments, processes or jobs most affect and relate to the corporate goals. If they build their own line of sight from the activities they perform through to the ultimate success outcomes for the organisation, they will get a much deeper understanding of the corporate direction and a greater sense of meaning in their own work.

Rule #3: Don’t give the team their measures; teach them how to fish.

Our role is to show the Measures Team how to design measures that best evidence their results. They are the experts in what they do and in understanding the results they produce. Usually people feel that someone else’s measures are trivial, too generic, or just not quite right. And that will stop them from owning the measures. Designing their own set of performance measures, and being in control of how many they have, is much more exciting.

Rule #4: Don’t judge the measures; collaborate to improve them.

We encourage the Measures Team to invite feedback from their stakeholders to test and fine-tune their measures. The team’s customers, advisors, and partners can collectively view the measures from an holistic perspective and thus offer unbiased and complete feedback about the measures’ relevance and practicality. This communication brings the team closer to their stakeholders, enables the team to better understand stakeholder needs, and helps the stakeholders to buy in also.

Rule #5: Don’t do it for them; let the team implement their own measures.

We need to put the power to bring the measures to life in the hands of the Measures Team. We help the team see that they are not restricted to existing data, they don’t have to spend lots of effort collecting new data, they can discover very simple ways to bring their measures to life – and they can decide not to measure something if it just won’t be worth the effort.

Rule #6: Don’t trample the team’s creative energy.

We need to allow the Measures Team to have some fun presenting their performance measures and to make the report useful and engaging. We can offer guidelines to inspire their performance report design and to help them decide the types of supplementary information they need to include to make the report usable. But it’s important for the team to be able to make the report into a tool to serve their own decision making and improvement.

Rule #7: Don’t dumb down the measures; trust the team’s innate numeracy skills.

As facilitators, we show the Measures Team the pros and cons of different approaches to interpreting and responding to their measures. Ideally, we do this by using data or measures with which they are familiar. When they see how easy it is to misinterpret data depending on how the data are presented, it won’t matter whether they passed high school mathematics or not; they will realise the power of the right presentation.

Rule #8: Don’t blame people for performance; let them fix the causes.

We want to allow the Measures Team to continually learn how they can improve their results, what the root causes of results are, and where the points of highest leverage are. So we have regular conversations with them about what their measures are saying to them regarding the design of their business processes and workflows, rather than blaming people or circumstances or making excuses.

Rule #9: Add choice; never take choice away.

I believe that buy-in is a natural product of respecting people, giving or showing them more choices than they thought they had, and not getting in the way of their making their own decisions and contributing. Of course we need to be sensitive to the fact that performance measurement is an organisation-wide system, and each team is only a part of that system. But the trade-off should be biased more toward the team’s buy-in than toward sophistication of the measures. We can improve the sophistication of the measures on a foundation of buy-in more easily than you can get buy-in to a suite of already sophisticated measures.


Are any of these 9 rules to KPI buy-in being broken in your organisation? What’s one thing you can do today – however small – that might remove an obstacle to buy-in?

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  1. Sean McPoland says:

    When so many companies rely on basic frameworks for their processes, that already define KPIs and KRis, and where management have bought into these metrics, how do you reconcile this article to these situations? The only one that is still valid is #8…or am I being a little simplistic?

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Sean, you’re right that #8 definitely still applies. And on it’s own it will go a long way to building more buy-in to performance measurement. People will use the measures that are already packaged with those basic frameworks without fear of retribution.

      Rules #5, #6 and #7 also still apply, as those basic-framework measures still need to be implemented, reported and interpreted.

      And rule #2 can still apply, since a basic framework is just that: basic. Some of the measures it includes may not align with the company’s goals. So some of the measures won’t be needed and perhaps other measures might be needed instead.

      Thanks for the challenge!

      Smiles, Stacey.

      • Sean,
        The part I think we may be missing is that while dictated (from pre-packaged processes or from “on high”) measures would seem to side-step the need for “buy-in” these are actually require focused effort to gain buy-in MORE. The negative reactions to implementing metrics from “scratch” can be overt…these are what were in Stacey’s example. The type of negative reactions your example will encounter will be mostly covert and thereby harder to overcome.

        Most covert negative reactions not only make it hard to get “good data” but they also lead to false results which look good. (they almost always look like things are going well). So in the cases of dictated measures, you’ll need buy-in more, not less…it’s just the how you get to it may be modified.

  2. Awesome list! (and your sharing the photo from your run just proves what a brave and humble person you are – no wonder you are loved).

    I’d add two very important (IMO) rules – I use them almost exclusively. Ensure everyone knows (which means believes) “How you will use the metrics” and more importantly “How you won’t.”

    Love your posts/emails…keep them coming!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Hey Marty!

      Tehe, yeah that was a scary photo! Don’t give me too much credit though, as that’s why I only included the photo in the email and not permanently on this blog or website!!

      I love your addition too. Thanks as always for sharing your very insightful suggestions.

      Smiles, Stace.

  3. Ulfried says:

    Great, Stacey! I can identify with most of those in one of my most challenging implementation and development sites. Thanks a stack!

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