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How to design organizational KPIs to encourage learning?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A Forbes article on KPIs And Corporate Stupidity discusses a conversation between the writer and Marilyn, a software engineer, on the latter’s view on KPIs.

Here’s what Marilyn says about her KPIs:

“I have my real job, and then my extra job meeting the completely arbitrary numbers in my KPI Profile. I have to keep track of about fifteen things that I do, and I have numbers to hit every week. The correlation between hitting my KPI targets and actually getting my work done is very weak. I could do a fantastic job during the week and move our company forward a lot and at the same time miss all my KPI targets.

We measure too much and there’s too much emphasis on numbers. Why should I work hard to hit a number someone gave me? I work because my work is fun and challenging.

It’s insulting to have to stop my real work every few hours to focus on the numbers that someone assigned to me without even talking with me.”

Marilyn’s rantings aside, Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are the raison d’être for why employees perform the way they perform. KPIs are every company’s measurable goals, usually tied to its business strategy. Just that it is tied to the company’s business strategy. As an employer, you can add the vaguest tasks in your employees’ career path and they will not flinch an inch to get that task done just because it’s one of their KPIs.

Yet, there is a difference between an employee’s career path set by the organization and his or her career growth[1]  that he or she aspires for[KB2] . We can chalk out the most straightforward career path for an employee in the form of KPIs, but if it doesn’t align with his or her growth, then those KPIs are a lost target.

In a world where people’s attention span is shrinking, they are bound to become bored in a flick of a second. Hence, it will take more than the traditional and transactional performance measuring mechanisms to keep them interested and motivated for work. In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink persuasively argues on how creativity, along with an analytical mind, are the need of the hour. Because, sooner or later, a robot would learn what you’re doing and take over your job. So, in this dissatisfied world where people are running towards gaining satisfaction from whatever little that gives them joy, it’s high time we set the right KPIs—the ones that go beyond numbers and data into the realms of driving learning and engagement. Your KPIs or Key Performance Indicators ought to have a different definition!

Your organizational KPIs look best when Knowledge meets Performance and Innovation becomes a way of life!

K: Knowledge-Driven

How many of us are aware of what our colleagues are working on? Or, in a diversified project, do all of us know what the other person in the team is racking his brains with? Let’s take it personal and consider ourselves. How many times have we gone out of the way to spend some time with our colleagues and share the details of the exciting project we are working on?

We’re too occupied with our tasks that we don’t really pay attention to what’s happening around us. Consequently, we miss out on a lot of exciting learning opportunities just because they have nothing to do with our KPIs. As employers, we must make it a point to enable a culture of knowledge-sharing in our organization. Include KPIs such as:

Training Initiative:

How many role-based training assignments has the person taken and how much improvement have we seen in her work?[3]

Growth Initiative:

How many times has the employee spent additional time in learning a new skill to improve her work?

Knowledge-Sharing:

How many people has the employee encouraged and empowered by transferring the knowledge that she has?

Learning not shared is learning not fostered. Organizations must create structures that enable team-mates to support each other through mentoring and teaching.

Performance Enablers

KPIs must be drawn out in a way that they become performance enablers for the employees rather than a hindrance to their growth. As Marilyn observed, though most KPIs are number-driven, they may or may not enhance the performance of the employees. Often, they can also end up becoming another set of “activities” that the employee needs to perform, in addition to her usual role-based tasks. If KPIs are important to measure the success of an employee and the organization, why not design KPIs that ensure success? Add elements that call for:

Customer centricity:

This is a vast domain. Some of the KPIs related to customer centricity can be:

  • How many customers have renewed their services or made additional purchases?
  • What is the customer satisfaction score?
  • What is the average resolution rate or turn around time that the employee has while responding to a customer?
  • What are some of the instances where the employee has gone out of the way to resolve a customer query?

Self-motivation:

It’s important to be self-motivated and “in the zone” in order to perform and also enable others. The employees should have parameters like:

  • How many times has the employee been able to cope up with stress? Or,
  • In stressful situations, how well does the employee work with her team and encourage them to remain motivated?
  • How many times does the employee feel intrinsically motivated to perform a task?

Mental health:

Employers often forget how important an employee’s mental health is to work peacefully and effectively. If we want to encourage our employees to learn more and work better, we must also give them a chance to dedicate some time for their own betterment as well.[4]  Some ways in which organizations can achieve this are by adding KPIs like:

  • Does the employee take breaks when necessary, to rejuvenate after a stressful work time?
  • How many times does the employee enable his/her team to take a break from work when the team member really needs it?

Innovation-Driven

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos describes innovation as “new options that nobody’s ever thought of before and see if customers like them.” While we talk about KPIs enabling employees to share knowledge and improve performance, knowledge-sharing and performance-enablement is heightened when the employees have something new to work on and then talk about it with their team. Something that gives them joy, motivation and the will to perform better by the day in order to be better problem-solvers. Thus, KPIs should also include parameters that lead to employees innovating more and more and coming up with solutions that not just change the way work is performed, but also how it is accepted by the customers. Include innovation driving abilities in the employees by adding KPIs in the realms of:

Solution-based approach:

What are the ways in which the employee has provided solutions to critical problems and changed the course of action towards an efficient and effective work?

Structural transformation:

How many times has the employee come up with solutions that have brought a change in the process for good?

Sustainable approach:

How has the employee managed to retain and sustain the efficiency of an idea that has gone well with the customer?

Keeping Up with the KPI Shenanigans

While setting KPIs, if we take a buy-in from the employees and seek their suggestions — their ideas on new initiatives, how to enable business growth, et al, they will acquire genuine interest in meeting those goals because they will feel more connected.[5]

KPIs should serve a bigger purpose than making employees feel bound to completing them. Employees today are looking for motivation and innovation. If they don’t feel connected to the work that they’re doing, they would think it shouldn’t be done in the first place. Times must change from organizations and their KPIs lacking the ability to channelize the creativity each employee imbibes to the times when employee engagement and motivation become the keys to employee retention.

While HR teams, Project Managers, Content Developers, Trainers, Engineers, and CEOs may have that sense of being emotionally connected to their work, what’s required is something more than “completing our part” and passing on to the next team, something better than just meeting timelines and achieving KPIs, something more substantial than just completing eight hours of work and going back home, feeling happy that the day had ended. What’s needed is organizations to move from a process-centric approach to one that keeps Skill and more importantly, employees’ Will at the centre; something more than just working to “finish the work” but to “complete rather than merely finishing”. To quote Peter Senge, ‘to seek personal fulfilment only outside of work and to ignore the significant portion of our lives which we spend working, would be to limit our opportunities to be happy and complete human beings.’

2 comments

  1. Thanks Mayank!

    The modern day business metrics have to evolve. The fascination for numbers has to take a backseat, more so when there is a significant gap between the pre-defined numeric targets and the actual requirements on the ground.

    The key is to make the KPIs much more inclusive today, making employees feel more self-motivated, knowledge-hungry and innovation-driven. They should feel connected to the task they are assigned with.

    In short, today’s KPIs should be designed and modeled around the idea of continuous learning.

    Thanks again for leaving a kind note. I wish you every success in your projects.

    Subbu

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