Listening to the Real Reasons For KPI Resistance

by Stacey Barr

Before we can begin to dissolve people’s resistance to KPIs, we need to listen beyond what they say, to find out the real reasons.

To dissolve people's resistance to KPIs we need to listen beyond what they say. Credit:

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about why people resist performance measurement and KPIs. And it’s just as easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. If we’re going to help dissolve their resistance, we’ll stand a better chance if we start from the right place.

To find the right place to start from, we need to actively listen. Bob Dick’s LACE model gives us a practical way to accomplish exactly this:

Listen… for understanding. Use eyes and ears. Seek to understand what is
really being said, both stated and implied – the real message.

Acknowledge… what you have understood. Say it in your words. The other person then knows you’ve listened. Be tentative – you may be wrong.

Check… your understanding. Encourage the other person to correct any errors and to challenge any assumptions you’ve made.

Enquire… for more understanding. Ask for further information whenever there is something you don’t yet understand.”

Here’s how we might apply LACE to understand our colleagues’ real reasons for resisting KPIs and performance measurement:

Listen… to understand their beliefs, attitudes, feelings and ideas about performance measurement.

When people say that KPIs are a waste of time, or not relevant to them, or not part of their real work, they’re actually saying something else. Listening between the lines is what we try to do, to truly understand the roots of their resistance.

In his little and powerful book “Deep Listening“, Oscar Trimboli talks about five levels of listening, which can help us listen between the lines. The levels are: yourself, content, context, unsaid, and meaning.

Before we try to influence or change anyone’s resistance to measurement, we can find the best starting point by listening much more deeply than just to the words that come from their mouths. And it’s okay to ask questions along the way, too.

Here’s how it might flow:

Listening to yourself:

  • What assumptions do you have about measurement that they don’t have?
  • What assumptions do you have about them?
  • How might these assumptions influence what you ask them and what you hear in their replies?

Listening to content:

  • What exactly are they saying about measuring performance or KPIs?
  • What words are they choosing?
  • What might this say about their definition of performance measurement or its purpose?

Listening to context:

  • What experiences in measurement have led them to their resistance?
  • What do their managers or colleagues or customers do with performance measures?
  • What ramifications does measuring performance likely have in their world?

Listening to the unsaid:

  • What feelings might they have about KPIs and measurement?
  • What experiences or ideas could they be thinking about but not saying?
  • Could any of this be too shameful for them to admit out loud?
  • Could any of this be outside of their own awareness?

Listening to the meaning:

  • What does the content, context and unsaid have to say about the meaning they’ve given to KPIs and performance measurement?
  • Is it a bureaucratic waste of the little time they have to get everything done?
  • Is it the excuse their manager used to not give them that promotion?
  • Is it something else?

When we’ve heard what seems pretty close to the reasons at the root of our colleagues’ KPI resistance, we share that with them.

Acknowledge… so they feel you really heard their position on performance measurement.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who seemed oblivious to what you said, and only interested in the next thing they wanted to say? Don’t be that person.

When we listen deeply to someone, it matters to them. Feeling heard is a very important early step to trusting. And trust is the only platform strong enough to build our influence from. So, we simply acknowledge to them what we heard them say about their experiences, feelings and thoughts on measuring performance.

It’s important that we put our understanding into our own words. And important to use words that don’t make them feel judged:

  • Bad: “So it seems to me that KPIs have only ever
    embarrassed you because they showed everyone you didn’t perform in your job.”
  • Good: “It sounds to me like you’ve only ever experienced KPIs as an unfair and overly-simplistic judgement on the work you do.”

But it’s up to them to decide if we have the correct understanding of their position on performance measurement.

Check… to make sure we really did understand their position on performance measurement.

Such a simple act, so often overlooked. Even though we may have taken more time than typical to hear the reasons for our colleagues’ resistance to KPIs, we might still have it wrong. Or not fully correct.

After paraphrasing our understanding of their position on performance measurement, all we need to do is ask:

“Have I understood you correctly?”

And when they’ve had the chance to confirm or correct our understanding, the way opens up for more conversation.

Enquire… to go even deeper into the reasons of their resistance to performance measurement.

As we listen to our colleagues share their beliefs, feelings, experiences and thoughts about measuring performance, we will naturally contrast those with our own. This can trigger new questions to understand even better where their resistance is coming from, and possibly what might begin to dissolve it.

We can ask more questions, to deepen our understanding, like these:

  • Our teams create their own KPIs. But it sounds like you have to use KPIs someone else is forcing on you – is that right?
  • When we use KPIs, we set targets based on the improvements we are confident we can resource. How are your KPI targets set? How hard is it to reach them?
  • Every year we do a review of our KPIs and we archive the ones we don’t need anymore. How are your KPIs updated so you only have to focus on the relevant ones?


A correct understanding of someone’s point of view is the due diligence required before we can ever hope to influence that point of view.

LACE starts the conversation, where we can now start to share our own position on performance measurement, and how and why it might contrast with theirs. We can start to broaden the possibilities for them to:

  • improve their knowledge about performance measurement
  • see that their past experiences with performance measurement were not how it’s supposed to be
  • change their definition of the purpose of measuring performance
  • appreciate how the right approach to measuring performance can make things better, for them and everyone
  • fire up some hope that performance measurement could be useful to them in their future

Small steps, from a solid platform, can lead to big changes.

The due diligence before influencing someone’s resistance to KPIs is to deeply and respectfully understand the reasons at the root of that resistance. [tweet this]

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