Be Ruthless About What to Measure

by Stacey Barr |

Management guru Peter Drucker is quoted over and again for his message that the key to strategy is omission. Good strategy is ruthlessly about what not to do, than it is about what to do. The same goes for KPIs. We must be ruthless about what to measure.

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In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, authors Covey, McChesney and Huling suggest the first discipline of execution is to focus on the wildly important. Achieving goals for change amidst the whirlwind of day to day work follows the law of diminishing returns.

The law of diminishing returns.

If we have two or three goals, over and above the whirlwind, we can achieve those two or three goals. But if we have four to ten goals, in addition to our whirlwind, we’ll achieve only one or two of them. You know how many goals can be achieved when we have 11 or more goals to achieve, as well as our whirlwind? Yep. None.

We cannot afford to have too many goals in our strategy, or we’ll end up with too many measures, too many targets, and too much to improve. We have to be ruthless about what to measure (and not measure) to make progress.

How to be ruthless about what to measure.

In PuMP, we use the “should, can, will” test to make sure a goal really is measure-worthy. Before we decide what the measures will be for a goal, we ask three questions of it:

  • Should the performance result of the goal be improved?
  • Can we exercise enough influence over that performance result to improve it?
  • Will we seriously devote the time and resources to implement an improvement in that performance result?

If we answer yes to all three questions, the goal is measure-worthy. If it’s not measure-worthy, then why is it in the strategy? Why are we keenly aiming to achieve something but not interested in knowing whether it’s achieved or not? It doesn’t make sense.

A case in point.

Bec was a Performance Analysis and Reporting Consultant with a state Department of Education. She used the PuMP technique of Results Mapping with one of the state’s country schools. This school had fairly high levels of disadvantage, and a review recommended specific improvements needed in their performance. As a result, the school’s leadership team wanted to update their three-year improvement plan and invited Bec to help with their targets.

It turned out that they wanted to improve everything. Looking at their improvement plan, they had five priorities. But within each of those priorities there were four or five goals. And they also had a plan for the Junior School, the Middle School, the Senior School and also for the Aboriginal Education Team within the school. When Bec helped them to map the specific performance results implied by all their goals, it became clear that for their literacy priority alone there were 115 goals to achieve in three years.

Their plan had never been presented visually before, and that was the biggest impact of the Results Map for this leadership team. It made it clear they were trying to improve too much. With 115 goals, it’s just impossible to go really deep and thoroughly into that improvement work.

The Results Map also helped them to see duplication and unnecessary overlap in their goals. It helped them discern the most important improvements that were needed, from the myriad things that were really a part of business as usual. They ended up with four goals for the school as a whole, and just a few measures for those goals.

When your strategy is results-oriented, easy to understand, and focused, it becomes measurable. A measurable strategy should be measured.


Scan your organisation’s strategic plan and do a stocktake of how many real results there are, wrapped up in the words. How many measures? Is it ruthlessly prioritised, or is it going to drive an industry of measuring too much?

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