Can You Implement Better KPIs Without Leadership Support?

by Stacey Barr

What happens if you try to implement better KPIs without the support of your leadership, and is it worth it?

What happens if you try to implement better KPIs without the support of your leadership. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/MARHARYTAMARKO

When leaders won’t support better KPIs, or better performance measurement practice, there are reasons. Some of the reasons we might be able to influence, such as:

  • regulatory requirements constraining what can be measured
  • no awareness of what good performance measurement is like
  • needing proof of its benefits compared to its costs
  • no bandwidth left after all their other responsibilities and crises

And some of the reasons leave us no room for constructive influence, such as:

  • outdated beliefs about what performance measurement really is
  • current KPIs being attached to their executive remuneration
  • a worldview of command and control, where people cannot be trusted

Depending on which reasons your leaders have for not supporting better KPIs, you can still go ahead and use better performance measurement practices. But the way you go about it will be different.

When there’s no chance to influence leaders’ support…

We only have so much time, energy and passion to give to better performance measurement, on top of all the other things in work and life that matter. So there are times when it’s just not worth giving any of your time, energy and passion to try and get leaders to support better KPIs.

Those times are when your leaders’ attitudes toward performance measurement can only change if their underlying beliefs and values change first, or the way that KPIs are used against them changes first.

The basic approach is to forget about the leaders and use better performance measurement where it helps you and your teams.

For example, after Judy (not her real name) had PuMP training for her team, she explained to me how KPIs are attached to executive remuneration in her organisation. Therefore, those KPIs were not really about true organisational performance but about what’s easy to achieve. I recommended that Judy’s team focus on making their local KPIs better, to improve local performance. And to do this in a way that doesn’t drive the wrong behaviour but still positively impacts the executive’s KPIs wherever possible.

Rather than hoping for, or striving for, leadership support for better KPIs, instead you use better performance measurement to help teams in our own part of the organisation, without ruffling any leadership feathers.

When there’s a good chance to influence leaders’ support…

There’s a good chance to influence how much KPI support you get from leaders when their reasons are not attached to their underlying beliefs and values, nor to the way that KPIs are used to judge them personally. It’s when their reasons are more circumstantial than systemic.

Often these leaders do have a continuous-improvement and customer-centric worldview, but circumstances are making it hard for them to fix the performance measurement problem.

The basic approach is to try and get a little more support for better performance measurement, in the contexts that matter to your leaders. With a little more of their support, you might get a little more of their attention. And that means you can gradually increase their involvement in better performance measure practice over time. And over time, they will start to feel how good it can be to have those better KPIs.

For example, people often ask me how they can get leaders to see that their regulatory KPIs are not strategic. My response is almost always that we don’t need to do that. It’s more constructive to help leaders develop a few strategic KPIs for their own internal use. These new KPIs can live side-by-side with the regulatory KPIs, without conflict. The purpose of the regulatory KPIs is to satisfy an important stakeholder. The purpose of the strategic KPIs is to give leaders more control over organisational performance.

There’s no need to get leaders’ full support for better KPIs right away. Work toward it gradually, succinctly, and always aligned to what currently matters to them. It’s like throwing little pebbles of influence into the pond of support, to cause increasing ripples over time.

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