How to Make Performance Measures and KPIs More Exciting

by Stacey Barr

Shift people out of their negative feelings about performance measures and KPIs by helping them feel the power that great measures can give them!

Close up front angle view of a late model Dodge Challenger muscle car.

What words do people use to describe performance measurement?

Boring. Dull. Bureaucratic. Tiring. Nerdy. Challenging. Threatening. Irrelevant. Judgemental. Useless. Time-wasting.

For many reasons, people are more likely going to have negative feelings about measuring performance. And before you’re going to win their enthusiasm to take measuring performance seriously, you have to spin those feelings around.

What words would we rather hear people use to describe performance measurement?

Meaningful. Relevant. Curious. Insightful. Motivating. Focusing. Useful. Successful. Leveraging. Valuable. Powerful!

Powerful?

Yes, powerful! We all love the feeling of being in control of something that matters to us. The feeling when our actions lead to the results we want. The feeling that we can influence the world around us and not be constantly at its mercy.

Just like sitting in an 800 horsepower muscle car (or passenger jet) as it launches… you feel that rush of excitement as the power thrusts the inertia clean out of you! Okay… it’s a different kind of excitement, but performance measures have power that can excite us, too.

For example, I put a lot of heart and soul into writing, to share what I’ve learned about meaningful performance measurement. Unsurprisingly, I measure a few things to tell me how my writing is received. And those measures give me power to write better and reach more people. When I see those measures shift – like the open rates of the Measure Up newsletter increasing – it’s exciting!

Feeling the power is far more convincing than just telling someone about it. And a great way to give them that feeling is to give them a very different experience of that special power of measuring performance.

Feel the power…

Forget about trying to convince everyone that measurement is important, just by telling them. Forget about telling people their current measures are useless. Forget about designing that corporate-wide, top-down, aligned-to-strategy measurement framework. For now, anyway.

Think small, think fast, think impact!

Somewhere in your organisation or business you’ll find an opportunity to create a powerful performance measure to make a fast impact. Think laterally about where an opportunity might be.

Who needs more power?

You might already know of one manager who needs no convincing that measuring matters. Or maybe you know of a recurring problem one team has, that everyone wants fixed. Or perhaps there’s a team that everyone else complains about, but no-one is trying to help.

Then go and talk to the people who own that opportunity. Ask them if they wish they had more power to solve the problem, to get to the bottom of it, to nail it once and for all. But don’t ask them if they need better KPIs. Yes, you’ll likely create and use a few performance measures to help them quantify and fix the problem.

The emphasis has to be on finding more power to solve a stubborn problem.

Are they ready for more power?

It’s going to be easier for you if the people who own the opportunity are keen. If not, keep looking for other opportunities. You’re after a small and fast run on the board that shows the impact that comes from using measures to assess, diagnose and fix problems people don’t currently have enough power to shift.

When you find your opportunity, treat it like you would a small, pilot project. Focus on a single result you will improve, and schedule it such that inside of two or three months, you’ve created a few powerful measures, and used them to diagnose the problem, to find a solution to the problem, and to show the problem fixed.

Write a power story.

And there’s one more thing, something weirdly powerful. Write up the project as a story. No, no, no – don’t use your project documentation template! Create something more akin to a scrapbook, with photos, quotes, anecdotes, a-ha moments, feelings, mistakes, funny antics. Make it as human as possible. Focus on the power it gave the people in that story. (The guru on using stories in business is Gabrielle Dolan, if you want to learn more.)

Then, show and tell this story to anyone to whom you’d like to show the power of measuring performance.

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