The Worst KPI Question You Can Answer

August 26, 2014 by Stacey Barr

The most common question people ask when they need performance measures (for whatever reason) is also the worst question you can try to answer. It’s the worst question because it sends everyone down a rabbit hole that’s too hard to wiggle out of, and the result is measures that suck.

The question is ‘how do you measure that?’

The question comes in a few other forms, too:

  • ‘What should we measure?’
  • ‘Yeah, but how will we measure it?’
  • ‘What’s the measure for it?’

I’m sure you get the idea.

The problem is, these questions are asked too soon. They are asked by people who believe performance measurement is so trivial that the measures they need are out there, but hiding from them. Or they are asked by people who don’t believe there really is a measure for goal or objective in question.

Answering this question will cause your goals to end up with:

  • measures that are trivial, like Number of Customer Complaints for a goal to increase customer loyalty
  • measures that aren’t directly relevant, like Overtime Hours Worked for a goal to reduce rework
  • so-called measures that are not measures at all, like Employee Survey for a goal to improve staff engagement
  • no measures, even though the goal really could be made measurable, like becoming more innovative.

The only answer to the question ‘how do you measure that?’ which you should give is this: Hold your horses!! Then guide them through a more deliberate process to arrive at great measures, based on these steps:

  1. Check that the goal is understandable and measurable.
  2. Design a measure around the evidence of the goal being achieved.
  3. Express the measure quantitatively.

Then do the due diligence to bring that measure to life, monitor it and use it to improve performance and reach the goal!

DISCUSSION:

What’s happened when you’ve answered that question ‘how do you measure that?’ too soon?

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  1. Stacey, I think we hear this question too often because people are driven by the aphorism: “what get measured gets managed.” I agree this question kills any business sense, but on the other hand it is the beginning of the discussion about measures, goals, etc.

    I hear this question in other from: “What is a good KPI for…” So my explanation starts with an idea that not all indicators are KPIs, then comes business context, and finally client is ready to start thinking about KPIs.

  2. Tommaso says:

    Waste of their time for the employees and waste of their human resources for the company.

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