Are you managing your metrics?

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Many of us have key performance indicators, (KPI’s), that are used to measure our and our team’s success.

During my career, I have observed senior managers apply tremendous pressure to people to try to achieve KPI targets. The pressure was often intense, with some managers adopting browbeating behaviours that were embarrassing for them and their employees.

This type of behaviour can result in metrics being managed to achieve the results the manager demands. Lacking the resources and plan to make the targets and under inordinate amounts of pressure, the numbers and the system are distorted to achieve the KPI targets. Queues are managed offline; sampling plans adjusted, all to improve the KPI’s but not the system.

I remember hearing a story about a hospital that had a paper waitlist to get onto the official online system as a way of improving the reported patient wait time. I recall accounts of factories adjusting product sampling plans to improve reported KPIs rather than improving the process.

The goal is not to manage the KPI, but to manage the system that leads to the results and for managers to guide the people who have the knowledge and expertise to improve the process. It is not good enough for managers to just set targets and aggressively demand results.(Graban 2019) This encourages the dysfunctional approach of metric management.

Resources need to be put in place with plans and reflective reviews to gauge if the plan requires to be adjusted. Systems need to be improved not metrics managed to achieve improved process performance. KPI’s and targets are a means to help guide improvements not to inflict punishments.

What examples have you seen of metrics being managed rather than systems improved?


Graban, M. 2019. Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. Constancy, Inc.

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