Why Leaders Shoot Down Your KPI Recommendations

by Stacey Barr |

If you don’t want leaders to shoot down your new approach to develop better KPIs or performance measures, don’t load their gun.

A gun with bullets lying next to it. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/au/portfolio/jirkaejc

Larry (of course not his real name) is a reader of my first book, Practical Performance Measurement. He wrote to me to explain how he had started to apply for the first few steps of PuMP, the measurement
methodology that this book details.

Larry took his strategic committee through the steps of assessing the measurability of the strategic goals, building a draft Results Map, and then designing performance measures for all the now-measurable goals in the Results Map.

It was only after that when Larry decided to share the new performance measurement work with his CEO, the one who makes the ultimate decisions about the strategic direction. And this happened:

“Here things went off the rails. The approach was too dramatic and foreign. When he started challenging the logic behind the methodology used, the committee were dead quite because they didn’t want to disagree with the CEO.”

Larry had been so excited by what he’d learned about PuMP that he wanted to share it immediately with his colleagues. And took them straight into ‘how’ – actually applying the techniques of PuMP.

His strategy colleagues seemed to be okay with that approach, but that’s likely because they were well aware of the typical struggles with finding meaningful measures for strategic goals.

But it’s not often the case the organisational leaders. Instead, they:

  • don’t have the typical KPI struggles top of mind
  • don’t position the purpose of measurement in the same way that strategy and performance professionals do
  • don’t have the same level of consciousness about KPIs that others in the organisation do
  • don’t want to look like they don’t know something in front of the people whom they lead
  • don’t enjoy the spotlight being put on things they’ve done badly

So if we want our leaders to value and support a new (better) strategic performance measurement process, we need to avoid two big mistakes:

MISTAKE 1: Throwing them into the deep-end of ‘how’ it’s done, and highlighting how much they don’t know or have been doing wrong.

MISTAKE 2: Bringing them in part way through the process, and expecting them to contribute without purpose or context.

These two mistakes make it next to impossible for leaders to feel engaged, or to own the new process and the outputs that process creates. Larry discovered this was exactly the case for his CEO:

“I changed my approach and presentation of the next strategy meeting, which got the entire council approval with the CEO’s blessing. The only difference is that I embedded the strategy and measures with intentional holes and gaps unanswered. This gave room for council members, especially the CEO, to add in their input and be part of the planning even if it was superficial. Once they felt they added value, their acceptance and approval followed.”

We can’t feel ownership for things we don’t create. And we’re not going to create things we don’t feel are important. Larry was fortunate to make this discovery, before it was too late.

Before it’s too late to win your leader’s support for better strategic measurement, remember to design your approach carefully:

  1. Have a good ‘why’ for measuring performance better.
  2. Invite them to try your approach, but position the value from their perspective.
  3. Invite them to try the approach, starting right at the beginning.
  4. Lead the process (new measurement approach), but let them produce the outputs (better measures).

Has your leader shot down your new approach to develop better KPIs? Why do you think they did?
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