Why Won’t People Commit To Goals and KPIs?

by Stacey Barr

There are many reasons why people might initially commit to goals and KPIs, but it’s better to work with the reasons why they will *stay* committed.

A man holding hand over heart. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/au/portfolio/roberthyrons

Some of the reasons why people might easily commit to a new goal or KPI, at the outset, might include:

  • The goal feels easy and quick to achieve.
  • Everyone else seems to have a goal that’s similar.
  • The goal is broad and vague enough that commitment can stay flexible.
  • The goal isn’t understood, so commitment is really only superficial.

That kind of commitment, to those kinds of goals, is the kind of hard work that has no reward. But when the right goals are met with the right kind of commitment, the hard work is rewarding.

“If you are committed to creating value and if you aren’t afraid of hard times; obstacles become utterly unimportant. A nuisance perhaps; but with no real power. The world respects creation; people will get out of your way.” – Candice Carpenter Olson (Co-CEO, Fullbridge)

But to achieve any truly worthwhile goal, and reach its KPI’s target, commitment must be enduring. And enduring commitment is born from different reasons to those listed above.

While we don’t need to focus too much on the “hard times” that may come with the pursuit of meaningful goals, we still need to dig deeper for reasons that keep us committed to the end. Here are five of those reasons, along with tactics you can deploy to make it much easier for people to commit to goals and KPIs for the entire journey.

Reason 1: It’s easier to stay committed to a team KPI than to a personal KPI.

One of the greatest fears people have of being accountable for a goal is of the consequences of not achieving it. And rightly so, because there really aren’t any results that can be fully controlled by any single individual. Everything in an organisation is connected and interdependent. Setting team goals takes away the fear, and the collaboration increases the chances of goals being achieved.

Tactic 1: Create team goals and KPIs, not individual ones.

A great way to set team goals and KPIs is to start with what we call a Measures Team (that’s right, not a Goals Team). We’ve found that when teams create measures for their goals, and not just goals themselves, their commitment to their goals is much higher. The measures bring the goals into concrete reality.

For example, don’t set individual goals and KPIs for each trainer in a training organisation. Help the trainers see that they really work as a team within the same process. Invite them to form a Measures Team and collaborate to set shared goals and KPIs.

Reason 2: It’s easier to stay committed to goals and KPIs we helped create.

We’re not robots, that unquestioningly do whatever our programmer tells us to do. We are humans, with the power of free will and choice. And no-one in their right mind is going to blindly give their time and energy (let alone their blood, sweat and tears) to stay committed to achieve a goal they don’t care about.

Tactic 2: Involve people to create goals and KPIs that they value.

One of the best ways to help people to buy into their goals is to very actively involve them in choosing their own goals, and the measures for those goals. More specifically, warm them up by first helping them explore what they value, as much as what is important to the organisation. The goals will then be clearly relevant to the work they take pride in. The measures will feel more like tools for them, and not rods for their backs.

For example, goals and measures about trainee satisfaction and learning would matter to a team of trainers who took pride in their delivery and the impact they have for their trainees.

Reason 3: It’s easier to stay committed to goals and KPIs that serve a higher purpose.

We all know we work as part of a larger system. And we want to know that what we do is valuable in that system. So linking team (or personal) goals to company or organisational success is worth the time it takes to do that.

Tactic 3: Help people understand why their goals matter beyond their role.

It helps enormously to make visually obvious the cause-effect relationship between achieving our goals and the company achieving its goals. We use a Results Map in PuMP to do this in a visually and logically powerful way. It creates a logical line of sight from team goals all the way through to the strategic direction or purpose of the organisation.

For example, by trainers achieving high levels of trainee satisfaction and learning, the company vision of being a world-class training provider becomes the truth, and not just a motherhood statement or marketing ploy.

Reason 4: It’s easier to stay committed to goals and KPIs that give something back to us.

WIIFM: what’s in it for me? The WIIFM will be different for different people, but tapping into it will be the same as tapping into an endless supply of fuel to pursue the goals. But don’t think you can decide this for them!

Tactic 4: Allow people to find some sense of WIIFM from their team goals.

Hold the space for the team members to find a meaningful WIIFM for themselves. You can’t avoid dialogue to do this. And you really shouldn’t avoid talking about the common, but demotivating, reasons why people believe they should have goals and measures. It’s then worth the time for people to talk about the meaning of the goals to each of them, and hear the meaning of the goals to others in the team.

For example, by achieving goals to do with trainee satisfaction and learning, a trainer has evidence of how good a trainer they are. That’s great for their career, and they get the intrinsic satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped others.

Reason 5: It’s easier to stay committed to goals and KPIs that stay on our radar.

A monthly rant about goals being important is a waste of time. But when we refer to our goals and use our KPIs on a regular basis, it can fuel our commitment to them. This regular use can mean weekly checks on progress, celebrating movement toward the targets, exploring ways to keep reaching for the goals’ KPI targets.

Tactic 5: Keep the goals and KPIs as a regular part of “real work”.

The old paradigm of reward and punishment is too troublesome these days. Being rewarded or punished like a child, or even worse like a pet, is undignifying. Rather, goals and KPIs need to be used as tools in everyday “real work”.

For example, in any given week, a training team could celebrate higher satisfaction ratings for three workshops in a row, or flowchart the training process to find improvement ideas, or simply give each other a nod if the goal is on track and needs no special response.


Contrary to popular terminology, people are not the organisation’s or company’s greatest assets. Assigning them to a goal isn’t the same as them being committed to that goal. If we treat them like any other asset, however valuable, we miss out on the power that comes from their free will, engagement and passion in pursuing goals that simultaneously matter to them and to the organisation.

Goals aren’t achieved and measures aren’t improved unless people stay committed to them. Why won’t they?
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