Should KPI Development Wait Until Next Year’s Plan?

by Stacey Barr

It’s already half-way through the year, so should you bother to develop KPIs for the current corporate plan, or leave it until next year?

If you wait until next year's plan to set KPIs, you'll wait forever.. Credit:

Ainsley works in local government, a sector we provide a lot of performance measurement support to. She recently asked me this:

Hi Stacey. Our council has a Community Plan in place and while it offers key result areas and outcomes, these are not quantified with measures. We’ll soon be moving into the next cycle of setting a new Community Plan. I am wondering – should we knuckle down and try to determine measures for the existing Community Plan as something of a retrofit, or would we be better to focus more on determining measures for the next Community Plan? So often I see strategies set in order of vision, goals, objectives… as the layers go on, the enthusiasm dwindles! The setting of measures is left until last and all too often doesn’t happen.

It’s not just local government organisations that come face-to-face with this dilemma. Leaving measurement until last, or leaving it out altogether, is common in all levels of government, and often in for-profit and non-profit organisations too. From KPI research I did a few years ago, I found only 58% of organisations have KPIs in their strategic plans, and only 8% have real measures.

Measurement (done properly) is a catalyst in the strategy execution process. It gives people something tangible to understand and a bigger ‘why’ to connect their processes to. Leaving measurement too late delays the alignment of everyone to the strategic direction. And without alignment, strategy execution is a pipe dream.

A strategy, even a great one, doesn’t implement itself.Jeroen De Flander

Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment. —Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last

Everyone knows this. But why do they still want to leave measurement until later, or next time?

Why do they want to leave measurement until next time?

The tasks we tend to avoid are those things that are hard to do, that we don’t have energy left to do, or that we don’t know how to do. And one of those tasks is performance measurement.

Starting afresh in the next planning cycle might give us time to re-energise and for people to recover some enthusiasm. Tweaking the planning process might make more time to fit it in. And maybe the goals will be easier to measure next time…

Nope. That’s not going to happen. Not for one very good reason.

Why they shouldn’t wait.

Many years of cumbersome planning processes and poor measurement practices have created exhaustingly negative baggage. That negative baggage has created inertia. This inertia won’t let measurement progress simply because you’ve taken a rest in order to try again.

Without new momentum, you won’t overcome the existing inertia. That’s why the quick answer to questions like Ainsley’s is don’t delay any further. You need momentum, not rest, to change how your strategy gets measured.

A more useful answer is that there is a process to build enough momentum by starting now, and not making it a chore. Try this:

  1. Find three or four pro-measurement compatriots with enough curiosity or gumption to shift your organisation’s measurement inertia, now.
  2. Select a handful of goals from the current plan which are most likely to stay relevant in the next plan (rarely is strategy 100% different from year to year).
  3. Use these goals to practice measurement with, using techniques described in How To Set KPIs. Don’t labour it, just play with it.
  4. Host an on-site Measure Gallery or an online Measure Gallery to discuss and share your experience measuring those goals, and decide how to incorporate measurement earlier into your strategic planning process (one suggestion is to set goals and then measures, before you worry about targets, initiatives and budgets).
  5. BONUS: If you do find a few good measures for your strategic plan, you now also have the opportunity to gather data for those measures and have ready a performance baseline for them as a head start on the next plan.

The risk of leaving it until next year is that you’ll leave it to the year after that, too.

If you wait until next year’s plan to set KPIs, you’ll wait forever. Build momentum by at least measuring a few of this year’s goals. [tweet this]

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