Getting KPI Buy-in

Getting KPI Buy-in

How to get more KPI buy-in and engagement in measuring performance.

You won’t get very far (in fact, you’ll probably go backwards) in trying to establish good performance measurement in a culture that just won’t buy in to KPIs. You’ll be battling against people who are:

  • fearful about what the performance measures will mean for their finances, self-worth and status
  • cynical and tired of performance measurement failures in the past
  • busy doing their everyday job (they’ll say measuring isn’t their “real work”)

KPI buy-in is not as trivial as sign-off.

These resources will help you understand the real drivers of buy-in to KPIs and performance measures, and more successfully boost KPI buy-in (email this page to yourself or a friend):


Step 1: Understand the difference between KPI buy-in and sign-off.

Buying in is a term that comes from poker, where a player buys their way into a game. It’s their choice to play, and they exercise and express that choice by buying in. Choice is the fundamental requirement for buy-in.

In performance measurement, we want people to buy in. We want them to choose to play the performance measurement game. We want them to choose to measure and monitor and improve performance, because it matters to them. This can’t be forced. Buy-in can only be given, never taken.

There are several common practices we do to get people involved in choosing the KPIs or measures we’ll adopt:

  • Send a report about the potential KPIs and ask people to vote on or evaluate them
  • Hold a workshop where people will brainstorm KPIs
  • Give a presentation of the chosen KPIs to inform people and get their sign-off

Sign-off is not buy-in. None of these methods work because they all fail to give people true choice about being involved, choice about what the measures should be, and choice about how to implement and use them.

Step 2: Stop doing the things that notoriously kill KPI buy-in.

There are lots of things that are common practice that actually kill KPI buy-in. We don’t do it deliberately. But we need to be aware of what destroys and prevents people from buying in to KPIs and performance measurement, and stop doing it.

Some of the common ways to kill KPI buy-in include:

  • “educating” them in KPIs, rather than giving them space to discover and learn
  • giving people KPIs, rather than giving them a methodology to create their own
  • blaming people for KPI results, rather than letting them use the KPIs to lead their own improvement initiatives

Step 3: Adopt a better definition of accountability for performance.

We want people to take accountability for improving the performance of their part of the organisation. Without that, organisational performance will just go backwards. But the traditional way of assigning accountability, like hitting targets on time, doesn’t work. It just encourages people to game the measures or game the system.

So we need a better definition of accountability. One that helps people feel in control of the result, confident in their ability to achieve it, and comfortable that they won’t be judged for things outside their control.

Step 4: Make KPIs and performance measurement relevant to their “real work”.

Start with why, not how. If you dive at people with lots of how-to information for setting KPIs, you’ll be met with deaf ears. No-one wants to know how to do something when they don’t know why they should do it. So if your colleagues are resisting involvement in KPIs, make sure you spend time talking about why we should measure performance.

Make the goal inspiring, not the KPI. It’s hard to feel excited about measuring something when there is no bigger purpose for doing it. Don’t measure for measurement’s sake. KPIs should not inspire people, but the goals they measure most certainly should. And the more urgent the goal feels for people, the more engaged they’ll be.

And it can help to create a few powerful stories that link the value of measuring performance to the difference it can make in people’s everyday work lives. Use a well-designed storytelling framework to do this, and you’ll sky-rocket your impact.

Step 5: Give people a positive experience of measuring performance.

There are too many negative experiences that people have with KPIs and measuring performance. We don’t want to dwell on the bad experiences. We want to shift attention to better ways to create better KPIs.

One way is to invite people to see the great performance measurement work that another team has done, using the brilliant PuMP Measure Gallery technique. I describe this technique in a Harvard Business Review video here. This works so well, despite being so simple and easy and quick.

Show how much control people have over their KPIs by documenting the contributions the team collaboratively makes and how they have shaped the final choice about measures. Take them through a KPI pilot, to experience the flow of creating KPIs the right way.

But make sure you follow a deliberate performance measurement process that you know works. If you do all the old things that don’t work, like brainstorming and writing weasely goals and letting management dominate the discussions, it will reduce the buy-in rather than build it.

Bonus: Keep learning more about getting buy-in to KPIs on the Measure Up blog.

There are plenty of articles about getting KPI buy-in and engagement in performance measurement, on the Measure Up blog.

back to The Most Common KPI Questions…

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