Get Buy-in for KPI Targets

by Stacey Barr

Setting and achieving performance targets for KPIs is about the heart just as essentially as it is about the head.

A heart and a brain balancing on a wooden scale. Credit:

If you find yourself throwing up all kinds of rationalisations as to why the majority of your targets were not met, it might be that your target setting process is a little too much about numbers and not nearly enough about emotion. How people feel about setting, pursuing and achieving targets has a huge bearing on how well targets can lead to performance improvement.

Targets must speak to the heart, not just the head.

Targets that are an almost mathematical arrangement of “performance measure + target value + timeframe” speak loudly and clearly to the head. They say nothing to the heart. What makes a target speak to the heart is rich sensory language that tells vivid and compelling stories of the future, as if the target had already been achieved.

A target to “drink 8 glasses of water everyday” speaks to the head. But a target to “drink 8 glasses of crystal-clear, cool, cleansing, sparkling water every day, to feel alert and refreshed” is much more compelling.

Targets that only speak to the head can leave people disengaged, bored or even cynical. But targets that are articulated along with a vivid and sensory raison d’etre can trigger anticipation, curiosity, excitement, impatience, passion and want. These are the emotions that move people toward targets.

TIP: Document your targets to speak to the head using “performance measure + target value + timeframe” but make sure you also have a sensory-rich description of why reaching that target really matters.

Targets must be believed to be seen.

We don’t have to look very hard to find famous quotes about why goals – and targets – are important. But this one, from last century, takes a different angle:

“How could there be life without aims and hopes? Everyone has aims, hopes, plans. But a goal that lies beyond the means of its accomplishment will lead to discouragement, frustration, demoralization. In other words, there must be a method to achieve an aim.” — W. Edwards Deming, “The New Economics 2nd Edition”, The MIT Press, 1994

It’s still weird to me, that beliefs are often more real to people than facts. It’s at the root of why so often measurement doesn’t win over opinion. Overwhelmingly, it’s our beliefs and not data that drive our choices and behaviours. What we believe about the achievability of a target will more drive how we feel about pursuing it than any facts about its achievability.

Targets without any strategies or means for being achieved easily trigger fear of failure, frustration, procrastination, confusion, and overwhelm. And any motivation felt for pursuing such targets fizzles fast. But targets that are iteratively designed with preliminary ideas about how to achieve them, more easily trigger trust, confidence, faith, and curiosity to pursue them.

TIP: When designing your targets, create a few scenarios of different improvement actions and the size of target each of them seems capable of achieving.

Targets must be owned to be pursued.

People must see themselves in the endeavours they pursue, or they won’t put themselves into those endeavours. Targets imposed from above, set without the involvement of those who should pursue them, are doomed to fail.

Without their ownership, a target can lead to fear of being blamed for results outside a person’s or team’s control, or stress from feeling pulled away from their other priorities. It feels disempowering – the exact opposite of what’s needed to reach performance targets.

But when people can see that by pursuing a target for the organisation, they personally will benefit from it too, there’s hope. It might mean aligning the target to one of their personal values or goals. Or involving them in designing the target itself. Then, targets can trigger pride, self-esteem, passion, dignity and commitment, and turbo-charge progress toward the target.

TIP: Whoever is going to be involved in pursuing a target needs to be invited as an active participant in the conversations to design it.

Make space for emotion in your KPI target process.

Emotion can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about in our work. In target setting, talking about emotion isn’t as important as setting targets in a way that will trigger useful emotions. Rather than ignoring emotion or shutting the lid on it, we can direct it constructively to reach the targets that matter.

Without space for emotion in our target setting, we cannot expect much buy-in. And buy-in is what we need to fuel the reach toward that target. Positive emotions make buy-in possible, and buy-in is a fuel that offers very high mileage.

Upcoming KPI Training

>> North America, Online Interactive, 3-7 June 2024

>> UK & Europe, Online Interactive, 10-14 June 2024

>> Australia/NZ/Asia Pacific, Online Interactive, 12-13 & 17-18 June 2024

>> USA, Washington DC, 25-27 June 2024

>> Africa, Dubai UAE, 13-15 August 2024

Register for the next PuMP Blueprint Workshop near you

Reprinting Articles

You are welcome to use articles from the Measure Up blog, with these requirements

Connect with Stacey

Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Want more information? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible.

    *We respect your email privacy.
    Suite 117 Level 14,
    167 Eagle Street,
    Brisbane Qld 4000,
    Stacey Barr Pty Ltd
    ACN: 129953635
    Director: Stacey Barr