Want Great KPIs? You Have to Get Sensory…

October 15, 2013 by Stacey Barr

You can only measure what you can observe or detect. If your goal is written in weasel words, you’ll have big struggles to measure it because weasel words don’t describe observable things. You need sensory-specific language instead.

Sensory-specific language is simply words that describe what our senses can detect: what we see, hear, touch, feel, taste or smell.

If you can describe your goals in sensory-specific language, it will become immediately obvious what you should measure to know if the goal is being achieved.

“Enhance our protection of the natural landscape.” Weasel alert!

A goal written like this is really tough to measure. What exactly is protection? Protection from what? And what natural landscape are we talking about? Protection of exactly what features or aspects of this natural landscape?

You have a snowflake’s chance in a bushfire of quickly finding really meaningful measures of goals written like this, without answering those questions.

Those questions are asking you to make the goal sensory-specific. What would you see or touch or smell or observe if the natural landscape was protected?

“The fragile soils of ridges and escarpments, and valuable farming and urban land, are protected from unnatural erosion and loss of topsoil.”

This goal is from Clarence Valley Council in New South Wales, Australia. I share this goal with participants in my PuMP Blueprint programs as an example of sensory-specific goal.

Straight away you can visualise what this goal means. You see in your mind’s eye rolling hills and rocky outcrops, the earthy patchwork of crops, vast green pastures with cows or sheep grazing. You see black or red topsoil in some places, and grey and cracked and dry ruts in the earth in other places.

You see what you can measure: the amount of erosion and the amount of top soil.

But it ain’t as easy as it sounds to make a weasely goal sensory-specific. It takes practice to describe our goals in observable language that a 5th grader would understand. But it’s so worth trying, and so worth practicing.

If you want meaningful performance measures, that is.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION:

Share one of your goals, that is weasely and hard-to-measure, on the Measure Up blog and I’ll help you make it more sensory-specific.

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  1. shambel Hordofa says:

    Setting measurable objective or goal is very important. As you know unless measure you can’t manage your strategy. To me that is BSc rule. Setting Strategic goal is sometimes difficult. AS you said some words are weasel.Yes I agree with you.However,usually naturally we face those words. That is due to the very nature of a certain institution purpose( mission or vision) we encounter them.For instance, take the ultimate goal of justice sectors.Their Ultimate goal may be to “ensure justice”. How do we Know whether the justice ensured or not? How do we measure? Some says that Justice is said to be ensured when it is predictable,Effective,Accessible to the society at large. Do you see such words predictability,effectiveness,accessibility,quality,fairness and the like.Such and such words are common and also natural.What is Our alternative? regarding justice can we describe our goal in sensory specific language or words? practically it is hard to measure. I need your explanation!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Shambel yes it is often very hard to use words that are not weasely! But using those words has become a learned habit, they are not natural at all!

      For justice, we want to explain it’s purpose in a way that anyone can understand. Is it not something more like this:

      We help to prevent people from suffering any form of personal loss due to the unlawful actions of another person or group of people, without causing unnecessary loss to those people commiting those unlawful acts.

      That’s just my first attempt, but often a first attempt is enough to trigger the kind of conversation you need to have to make your mission/vision/goals easier to understand and therefore more measurable.

      Who else has some ideas, either for Shambel or another example of a weasely goal?

  2. Prahlad Bhugra says:

    I had a thought to share with Shambel.
    Going by what Stacey is saying, for ENSURE JUSTICE – we cannot smell, taste or touch it – it is only seen and heard. The person who wants justice can only see in the end whether he has got justice or not and after how long. Also, during court proceedings discussions are heard by the judge to provide justice. In that context the goal can be written as –
    Ensure justice to all by resolving the cases 10% faster than basline and by reducing the false judements by 10% as compared to baseline.

    The projects associated with goal could be –
    a) to make the processes faster – making use of automations so that as soon as some one makes a complaint – he immediately gets a time & date for his hearing without going through lot of wrriten work and wastage of money/time. Here different types of cases can be categorized and we can get plot on XmR charts to get baseline
    b) Similarly, we can generate a database of all the previous judgements for the helping the judge under various categories of cases – this will help him to take better decision. May be a team of qualified judges can classify the previous judgements as True & false – and that database can help in providing the baseline measure for quality.
    Hope this helps
    Prahlad

  3. I was going to reply to Shambel’s question, but realized my reply would fit as a general comment to your post, so…

    Stacey you hit on the key to making a strategic plan usable: “describe [y]our goals in observable language that a 5th grader would understand.” And then you also pointed out what I’ve learned from experience, “It takes practice.” I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to teach others how to do this…it seems more art than science.

    But, I use the 5 Why’s and my natural curiousity to help the leader keep breaking down the goal until it’s simple enough for a “5th grader to understand.” Actually I tell people to explain their goal to their in-laws (assuming that the in-laws have no background, experience, or interest in the topic!). Making it so a 5th grader would understand may actually be simpler than possible (See Albert Einstein). In any case, your point is championed – break it down into simpler and simpler terms until it’s clear for anyone to understand what you want to achieve.

    It does take practice and a little talent. But, you can get pretty good at it if you:
    1. Know little about the topic (so you don’t assume or take things for granted)
    2. Are inquisitive enough to ask the questions
    3. Are humble enough to keep admitting that you don’t “get it” until you truly do.

    Marty

  4. Stacey Barr says:

    Prahlad and Marty – these are both great suggestions and following the same vein. I hope that Shambel returns to read this great advice!

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