The New KPI

I’m guessing that most of you are familiar with the term or concept of a KPI – a key performance indicator. Leaders and organizations embrace KPI’s in different ways and to different degrees – from occasional reference to them to putting KPI’s at the forefront of all strategic planning and goal setting. In fact, many business planning systems consider KPI’s as central to the entire process and approach. Yes, KPI’s are valuable, but most of them are based solely upon quantitative measures of productivity, efficiency, profitability, etc. While some organizations have gotten creative in identifying unique KPI’s that are accurate indicators of the organization’s goals trajectory, it’s time for a new KPI: a KPI that measures some of the most critical and more qualitative elements of the organization.

Enter Key People Indicators! No, I’m not talking about turnover, years of service or advancement rates. I’m talking about the people indicators that ultimately drive culture, create and sustain engagement, and accelerate achievement of objectives. I’m talking about the foundations for any engaged and effective team – trust, listening, direct communication, accountability, empathy, appreciation, supportive feedback, feeling valued, professional development clarity and support, clear expectations, and risk and failure acceptance.

When I refer to work environment safety, I’m not talking about physical safety (hopefully that’s not an issue for most organizations). Rather, I’m borrowing a concept from Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last). In Leaders Eat Last (Portfolio 2014), Sinek proposes that the most fundamental need of team members is to work in an environment where they feel safe. He also offers this important perspective:

“Leadership is about making people feel safe. When someone feels heard, they feel safe.”

Imagine a new KPI (Key People Indicator) that measures the degree to which your people feel heard and therefore safe. Imagine a new KPI that measures team member empowerment and engagement, or the degree to which they feel valued and appreciated.

Here are a few of the elements that go into making people feel safe:

  • Team members experience leaders and managers (and other team members) being present and listening, so that they feel heard.
  • It’s safe to ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • Giving and receiving of feedback is consistent and rich.
  • Team members are encouraged to take risks, and failure is viewed as a learning opportunity.
  • Leaders, managers and team members walk their talk and nurture a culture of trust.
  • Leaders and managers demonstrate a commitment to the growth of team members and provide consistent appreciation.
  • Team members engage in direct communication at every level of the organization.
  • Expectations are clearly communicated and supportive accountability is consistent, sharp and predictable.

These are the ingredients of not only a safe work environment, but a highly engaged, empowered and effective team.

While it may be more difficult to measure these new Key People Indicators (well-framed team surveys are a great measuring tool), the rewards are worth the development and measuring process. My experience with hundreds of organizations is that the biggest gaps are leadership gaps and that the most important obstacles to success are trust related. We all know that what gets measured get done (for quantitative elements), and it’s just as true that what gets measured changes (for qualitative interests).

What are you waiting for? The new Key People Indicators will help you identify the most critical gaps in your leadership and team, as well as the most impactful areas for improvement across your organization. The old KPI’s are about efficiency, but the new Key People Indicators are about engagement, effectiveness and acceleration. Are you ready to make the shift to the new KPI?

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