How researchers get heard
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If You’re Afraid of KPIs

…then we need to start with “you’re afraid” and go from there.

I’ve seen organizational leaderships doing everything they can not to set key performance indicators for their communications.

I’ve seen leaderships setting absurdly easy-to-achieve KPIs.

And I’ve seen leaderships (and funding officers) who treat missing a KPI as occasion for a Zero Dark Thirty interrogation.

All of these scenarios flow from the same places. Fear of failure; fear of punishment for failure.

Someone — you, your supervisor, your organization, your board, your funders — is afraid of failure more than they’re interested in success. Putting a number on that success feels like putting a target on one’s back.

That’s a problem of organizational culture, not merely missing numbers in a spreadsheet.

Yes, KPIs are measures of success. Yes, you should want to hit your KPIs.

But at its core, the KPI is a feedback mechanism. It’s a signal, not a verdict.

As Ted Jackson of ClearPoint Strategy says, “a good KPI should act as a compass, helping you and your team understand whether you’re taking the right path toward your strategic goals.”

Sooner or later, you will fall short of a KPI. That’s a good moment.

That moment gives you carte blanche to review your tactics and strategy. To figure out what else you might be doing to accomplish the goal that underpins the KPI.

It’s the moment for learning, experimentation and improvement. Not panic or punishment.

Organizations afraid of KPIs tend to tell anecdotes of their successes.

Storytelling about success is a hard habit to break. Stories are so malleable, and we all love a good one. The ones that don’t fit can be tossed out.

It is remarkable how unscientific some research-driven orgs become when it comes to communications.

Takeaway: Start setting and learning from KPIs now, and announce to all your stakeholders how you use KPIs — as guidance, not as life-or-death.

Set expectations before they’re set for you.

Feel the fear and KPI anyway.