Which Level of KPI Consciousness Does Your Leadership Have?

by Stacey Barr

We need the leadership team to support better measurement, but how we garner their support depends on their level of KPI consciousness.

Fearful executive peaking over a desk. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/au/portfolio/nastco

We do better with introducing better performance measurement when we have leadership support. If the leadership team are not behind this change, they can sabotage it with their old bad KPI habits.

And even if your organisation made good progress, and more importantly has a strong philosophy of measuring performance meaningfully, a change in leadership can turn it on its head.

Many of my clients have struggled with getting leadership support for full PuMP implementations:

  • not knowing how to deal with a domineering board director who has ridiculed the results and measures the organisation fell in love with
  • stuck in how to respond to a new CEO who has demanded that all performance measurement cease and desist, in an organisation that were close to mastery in measuring for improvement
  • speechless when a Councillor told a local government leadership team that their results maps and measures were a load of shit because he couldn’t see how they’d help him get re-elected

We’re all trying to do the right thing with better performance measurement approaches, like PuMP. We want to help the organisation better fulfil its purpose and reach its goals and have the impact it exists for.

Leaders can either be the boosters or the bottleneck.

How do you pick which one they’ll be?

As I was researching this question, and building a framework to describe it, a few other models synergistically aligned with one another and my thinking:

  • David R. Hawkins’ book, Power Vs Force
  • Michael Henderson’s book on culture, Above the Line
  • The Minessence Values Framework, introduced to me many years ago by Paul Chippendale

This synergy gave me confidence to share the framework with you, at least in the spirit of sense-making and experimenting. Henceforth, here are the six levels:

The six levels of leadership KPI consciousness

If you can approximate where your leadership team is on this ladder of KPI consciousness, you find a starting point for how to frame the purpose and benefits of better KPIs in a way that might best resonate with them.

Level 1: SHAME

The primary concern of leaders here is that KPIs will reveal that they are not competent of doing the job they are tasked with. They believe the purpose of KPIs is to judge people as good enough or not good enough, deserving of reward or punishment. These leaders are focused on measures that external stakeholders have chosen to judge them by. So it’s little wonder when they use KPIs to deceive others when their reputation or position is threatened or under attack.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of shame, you have next to no chance of introducing better measurement. There’s no trust, and no
emotionally bandwidth to take it in. This is not the kind of leader someone like you, who values results and improvement, is ever going to thrive under.

Level 2: FEAR

Leaders at the fear level have a primary concern that they will be held accountable for KPIs that are not within their control. To them, the purpose of KPIs is to work out who is to blame for unacceptable performance, to motivate them to perform better. Fearing accountability, leaders are likely to focus on measures of activity, which are within their control and can be achieved despite results. So, these leaders use activity measures to demonstrate how hard they work and how much they are getting done with their budgets, to avoid blame.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of fear,
the culture won’t be stable enough yet to measure performance properly
. Better to focus on finding a shared vision for the organisation, and making it clear and understandable for everyone to rally around.

Level 3: PRIDE

Transparency is the leader’s primary concern here. It’s that negative results will be shared externally, and resources will be taken away. The primary purpose of KPIs is to prove the great impact that the organisation is having. This is why it’s the positive results only that leaders are likely to prefer measures of (vanity metrics). These leaders use vanity metrics to tell good news stories, to keep the financial and political support of external stakeholders.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of pride, you can position better measurement as a tool to give to everyone to align their work to the organisation’s purpose and direction, to have more control over the results they produce, and to prove the organisation is making great achievements.

Level 4: HOPE

Reporting is what these leaders are mostly concerned about. They want reports that tell them what they need to know about the organisation. Feedback is the purpose of KPIs to these leaders, to tell them what they can’t know by walking around and looking and listening. But often these leaders are likely to adopt measures that are traditionally used, or where the data is readily available, so reporting can be quick and regular. Then these leaders can monitor changes, easily identify which KPIs are showing good or bad results, and they feel across what’s happening.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of hope, then you can position better measurement as the way to get better factual information to make better decisions about improving customer service, employee engagement and ultimately a more successful organisation.

Level 5: REASON

Priorities are what drive the leaders at this level. Their primary concern is measuring what matters most, and that they are allocating resources where most needed. They appreciate the purpose of KPIs is for improvement, to put attention on the areas of the organisation that need the most improvement. Leaders here want measures that align to their goals, and give direct evidence of how those goals are being achieved. This enables them to respond to valid signals in KPIs, to focus on diagnosis of causes, and choosing improvement initiatives.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of reason, then you can position better measurement as the way to give every team the handles to redesign the way the organisation works, so it can fulfil its purpose better.


Optimisation is leaders’ primary concern at this level, that KPIs are telling them as much as possible about the systemic nature of performance so they can find the most leverage. For them, the purpose of KPIs is to build wisdom about how to get the best from the organisation, to have its greatest impact in the world. The measures that matter most are lead indicators, finding the few measures which have the most predictive power to achieve strategic goals and purpose. These leaders use KPIs to find and fix performance constraints in a way that gets the highest return on their investment in the fixes.

If your leadership team is dominated by a KPI consciousness of surrender, but they’re not already using a great measurement approach, position a better approach as a way to help people see interconnections, and find the points of highest leverage for the organisation to make as big an impact in the world as possible for the resources available.

If a leadership team is consumed with hiding incompetence, avoiding accountability, or telling good-news stories, they’re not ready for a better KPI approach yet.
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