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Stacey Barr
Stacey Barr
Performance Measure Specialist

Stacey Barr Pty Ltd
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Why Won't Leaders Own the KPI System?

Posted about 7 years ago

Brett, a Performance Manager in a large public sector organisation, asks “What do I do to get the Executive leadership team to take ownership of the agency’s performance management system?”

It’s sad but true that many leaders of our organisations simply don’t embrace performance measurement.

The unintended consequences of rewarding executives based on KPIs are the same as the consequences of measuring people (something I totally oppose)

Leaders fear KPIs too.

They fear looking bad, fear not getting that bonus, fear being sacked, fear missing out on the next upward step in their career. And all this fear leads to insidious performance management behaviours.

The figures get managed, not performance. They measure only the "good news" things. They focus on actions rather than outcomes.

The leadership team of a local government organisation only wants to measure things that show how great the council serves its community. That leadership team is flying blind, because they’re looking at the pretty view and not at the looming storm clouds.

Usually the people who see this problem are in positions where they cannot affect it. They appreciate that performance measurement is about feedback, learning and continuous improvement. But they have to do what they’re told.

The Strategic Planning Manager in the same local government organisation is absolutely committed to continuous improvement, but he’s constantly befuddled by the silly KPIs his leadership team keep asking for.

So what can you do?

How can you get the senior leadership team to take ownership of the performance management system?

The truth is, not much. You have as your obstacles their fears about KPIs, their arrogance that they already know everything there is to know about KPIs, and their short-term focus on getting positive results quickly.

So putting forward a logical case for KPIs isn’t going to work in situations like this.

I don’t believe it’s a problem you can address directly. But you are still part of the system, and as such, your actions do have an effect in that system. Like tossing small pebbles into a pond, the ripples can still reach far.

So what kinds of pebbles can cause the right ripples?

Questions are one of the most powerful tools that we have for influencing others. Don’t try and influence beliefs, attitudes or behaviours, though. The kind of influence that will send the ripples the farthest are questions that raise awareness.

Awareness that KPIs don’t all have to be reported upward and outward – that they can simply be feedback for internal use. Awareness that by measuring something that’s bad now, and fixing it, means they’ll have a real good news story in the future. Awareness that it’s more heroic to fix a problem than to deny that there are any. Awareness of what performance measurement truly is

And even if you fail to influence the current leaders, you can still influence the future leaders with questions that raise their awareness, too.

Awareness of what they would do differently, when they become the future leaders. Awareness that they can use their own KPIs to drive real improvement in their own parts of the organisation. Awareness that they can ask awareness-raising questions of their current leaders too.

A change of behaviours only comes after a change in beliefs and attitudes. A change in beliefs and attitudes only comes after a change in awareness. That’s why you need to start with awareness.

TAKE ACTION:

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, your successes and failures, in attempting to get senior leaders to champion proper performance measurement. Comments, anyone?

Comments (4)

Wade Stoddart
Wade Stoddart
Owner at WJS Consulting

There was a recent run of KPI creation where I work and we were given an opportunity to support or decline a potential metric. It was interesting to see how one or two outspoken opinions drove the selection process….I for one pushed back on KPI’s that deserved being challenged for their value. Several metrics were proposed that simply offered little value. Why track something that won’t or can’t be controlled? This is my acid test question and helped filter out the true measures of success. And I am in a position of management so if I am expected to report on something it must show that improvements are needed/being realized or that a process is stable…(or as stable as it should be).

Posted about 7 years ago | permalink
Michael Schwartz
Michael Schwartz
Converge Networks Corp

In the 20 years that I’ve been doing this, I think the author is spot on. As a SME in the customer service and support field, I’ve held every role from developing level 0 self-help tools to Senior Project Manager of large IT service desks/help desk. Over the last 10 years of my career, I’ve been faced with this exact same issue over and over and over and over and over. The bottom line is this. The executives that are strong leaders will always be self-evaluating. These are the leaders of tomorrow because they work to improve not only themselves, but their teams. These are the leaders who are able to change and will embrace ownership. For the rest of the management group, they will push-back because they either don’t or won’t embrace what they don’t know. More often than not, I end having to help the organization change how it thinks about how it does business before I can get them to take ownership of it. I’ve done well with hitting them were it makes sense to them; on the money. When I show them the power of benchmarking and understanding the correlations/linkages of the KPI’s and how it directly impacts the money they spend, then they begin to listen.(amazing how that works) In some cases the real progress happens after I’ve left the project. But at least during my time there, I opened their eyes and ears to the concepts. Just sometimes they are not ready to make the changes. It’s unfortunate too, because usually I end up at their competitor’s project where they are embracing it all too well; giving them further advantage.

Posted about 7 years ago | permalink
Mariel Perez
Mariel Perez
Vivesmart

i’ve working these matter for a few years by coaching… it’s true all the the things mention but a powerful tool its focus them or make them see the productivity that kpis can bring to the teams and also the company.. you need to know and define the 5 to 7 kpis that can give you a general picture of the top priorities of your company – it’s not a matter of the only thing you want to see is what you need to see to know how your performing, and also to better define where to get better or focus on… the objectives, the new things is easier to know when you can see where theres a problem or its good but you want to get even better!… if you area blind you can lose timing to fix things, also the opportunity to get your team to next level… excellence should be the habit ..try to make things better and better

Posted about 7 years ago | permalink
Mariel Perez
Mariel Perez
Vivesmart

i’ve working these matter for a few years by coaching… it’s true all the the things mention but a powerful tool its focus them or make them see the productivity that kpis can bring to the teams and also the company.. you need to know and define the 5 to 7 kpis that can give you a general picture of the top priorities of your company – it’s not a matter of the only thing you want to see is what you need to see to know how your performing, and also to better define where to get better or focus on… the objectives, the new things is easier to know when you can see where theres a problem or its good but you want to get even better!… if you area blind you can lose timing to fix things, also the opportunity to get your team to next level… excellence should be the habit ..try to make things better and better

Posted about 7 years ago | permalink

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