The Worst KPI Question You Can Answer

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.

Man with hands raised in question with other team members looking frustrated. Credit:

It’s the worst question because it sends everyone down a rabbit hole that’s too hard to climb back out of. And the result is a set of measures that are usually not very smart or meaningful.

The question is ‘how do you measure that?’

This ‘worst KPI 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 simplistic brainstorming can generate what’s needed. Or they are asked by people who don’t believe there really is a measure for goal or objective in question. Both are false!

Answering the question ‘how do you measure that?’ will cause your goals to end up with:

  • measures that are weak evidence of the goal, e.g. Number of Customer Complaints is a very weak measure for a goal to increase customer loyalty
  • measures that aren’t direct evidence, e.g. Overtime Hours Worked is not direct evidence for a goal to reduce rework
  • things that are not measures at all, e.g. Employee Survey is a data collection tool and not a measure for a goal to improve staff engagement
  • no measures at all, even though the goal really could be made measurable, like for a goal to become more innovative.

I said that this question is asked too soon. And by that I mean; we ask what the measure should be, before there is a good enough understanding of the result the measure is needed for.

The only good answer is ‘hold your horses!’

The only answer we should give to the question ‘how do you measure that?’ is this: Hold your horses! Let’s start by defining what we mean by ‘that’. Answering the question with anything that sounds like a measure is simply going to reinforce that there are shortcuts to meaningful measures. There aren’t.

Instead of tripping over that question and landing in a KPI brainstorming session that goes nowhere, guide your colleagues through a more deliberate process to arrive at great measures. In PuMP, we take a much more deliberate measure design process which involves these steps:

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

In fact, we don’t EVER need to ask ‘how do you measure that?’

What invariably happens when using PuMP is that we don’t ever need to ask the question ‘how do you measure that?’ Or any of its related questions.

That’s because PuMP’s templates guide us step-by-step to the best measures, for whatever goal or result we need to measure. Meaningful measures come from a deliberate evidence-based design process, not a brainstorm.

Then PuMP can help you bring those measures to life, too, so you can monitor it and use it to improve performance and reach the goal.


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

Upcoming KPI Training

>> North America, Online Interactive, 3-7 June 2024

>> UK & Europe, Online Interactive, 10-14 June 2024

>> Australia/NZ/Asia Pacific, Online Interactive, 12-13 & 17-18 June 2024

>> USA, Washington DC, 25-27 June 2024

>> Africa, Dubai UAE, 13-15 August 2024

Register for the next PuMP Blueprint Workshop near you

Reprinting Articles

You are welcome to use articles from the Measure Up blog, with these requirements

Connect with Stacey

Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Want more information? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible.

    *We respect your email privacy.
    Suite 117 Level 14,
    167 Eagle Street,
    Brisbane Qld 4000,
    Stacey Barr Pty Ltd
    ACN: 129953635
    Director: Stacey Barr