Why Does KPI Engagement Matter More Than KPI Sophistication?

by Stacey Barr

Teams reach performance excellence much sooner by increasing their engagement in measuring before increasing the sophistication of what they measure.

A complex equation for measuring. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/au/portfolio/niserin

Earlier in my performance measurement career, I facilitated a lot of teams to develop performance measures. One of the techniques I used, the PuMP Measure Design technique, has the team collaborate on listing potential measures for their goal. Then they choose the most feasible and relevant measure from the list, to go with.

In a team within a transport organisation, one of the members couldn’t accept the team’s selection of a measure for road condition. Being the engineer he was, he wanted to choose the very technical measure he had contributed to the list. It probably was the right measure to use, but it wasn’t going to work. Not yet, anyway.

To help him understand why his technical measure wasn’t going to work, we discussed two scenarios:

  1. If a sophisticated measure has no buy-in, it won’t be implemented.
  2. If a simpler measure has buy-in, it will be implemented, and then it can evolve into something more sophisticated.

It’s very logical, really. And logic will appeal to an engineer (and most people who have the capacity to understand sophisticated and technical measures). The logic goes like this:

  1. We need people to feel engaged in the process of measuring.
  2. When they are engaged in the process of measuring, they own and value the measures they create.
  3. When they own and value the measures they create, they will implement and use those measures.
  4. When they implement and use those measures, they discover the measures’ limitations.
  5. When they discover the measures’ limitations, they want to create better measures.
  6. When they create better measures, they move closer to more sophistication in their measurement.

The PuMP techniques hold the space for engagement to come first, by ensuring that the team creates their own measures. The PuMP techniques provide a process to facilitate the discussion that creates ownership and buy-in and engagement. Any measurement approach that tells people what to measure is going to fail.

Harald, the CEO of a technology company, had to fight his instinct to influence his teams on what to measure. But he held back, and facilitated his teams through PuMP, so they could become as engaged as possible in the process, and skilled in creating measures that they truly owned:

“I can tell people, ‘That’s not good. Change it,’ and that’s the hierarchal old way. Now we need to do it differently… I’m totally convinced that this must be a self-experience by teams and not something that anyone from a hierarchal perspective tells them that they have to do it differently.”

Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, talks about a famous thoroughbred trainer who uses play rather than pain to teach the horses. He says:

“A horse that loves to run will beat a horse that’s compelled, every day of the week… Never train your horse to exhaustion. Leave him wanting more.”

To have our leaders and colleagues “wanting more” in developing and using performance measures, they have to love what it does for them. Don’t exhaust them with jumping through bureaucratic KPI hoops. Make it meaningful, make it easy, make it theirs.

The more engaged people are with KPIs, the more they learn and the more sophisticated the measures will be. Force sophistication too soon, and it all grinds to a halt.
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