How to Handle the KPI Cynics

by Stacey Barr |

At a recent in-house PuMP Blueprint Workshop I ran for a client, one of the participants came up to me at the end of the 2 days and admitted that he’d come to the workshop very cynical and expecting to learn nothing new. He quickly went on to say that he experienced just the opposite and gave me a hug to say thanks!

If it was always that easy to turn the KPI cynics into KPI advocates, then the world would be a radically different place on account of all of us easily measuring exactly what mattered. But that ain’t the case, is it?

cynical woman

There are a few signs that your progress toward the right KPIs is being held up by people feeling cynical about the whole deal. Here are some of the things you might hear them say, and some tips for how to respond in a way that starts their journey toward KPI advocacy.

We’ve been doing okay without performance measures in the past, so why start now?

Rather than answering their question with a list of reasons to start measuring performance now, try a different tact. Challenge the assumption they’re making that the past was okay, or that okay is good enough today. Try something like this:

“I absolutely agree that we don’t want to change for change’s sake. We just don’t have time. But if we keep going the way we always have, it won’t stay good enough for long because as you know, the market is rapidly changing…”

The hidden agenda is that management are going to start hitting people over the head with the measures, demanding more from us, and cutting jobs.

There’s a bit of mind-reading going on here. Don’t bother trying to placate them with promises that their greatest fears are unfounded. You need to reframe that the measures are for them to use, not for the managers. Try something like this:

“Not if we beat them to it. Our plan is that the measures you guys come up with are for you to use to improve your processes and demonstrate objectively to management what support you need from them to achieve targets. You won’t be reporting the measures to management for them to use. You’ll be engaging them in a discussion about how performance improvement will happen.”

We have “real work” to do.

Poor time management isn’t the problem here. And better time management is not the solution. The problem is the belief that performance measurement isn’t real work. Raise this assumption and explore its implications. Try something like this:

“If performance measurement isn’t part of our real work, then that implies that checking if what we’re doing is adding value isn’t part of our real work. If we don’t believe we’re responsible for adding value through our work, what are we getting paid for exactly?”

Listen out for the objections that your managers and colleagues and staff offer up against performance measurement. What assumptions are they making that you can raise, and through some genuine questions, test the validity of?

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