Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How KPIs Drive Success… As Well As Make You Slim, Fit And Have Shiny Teeth

People often ask me whether KPIs really help us improve. Can metrics make a tangible difference in our businesses or are they simply driving the wrong behaviours? My answer is: It depends on how they are used. If KPIs (or Key Performance Indicators) are simply numeric targets that people are expected to deliver at any cost, then they are toxic poison to any company. However, if they are used and owned by people to monitor and improve what they do, then they are powerful enablers.
Let me paint you three scenarios that I hope will convince you that KPIs are indeed vital enablers of success. The little twist is that I haven’t taken these examples from any of the businesses I work with but from everyday life so we can all easily relate to them. The first is loosing weight, the second is getting fit, and the third is about brushing your teeth. Here we go…
How KPIs can help you lose weight
I know it’s not great to talk about losing weight in early February. Ever since the holiday season finished many will have tried to shift the extra pounds we put on but somehow we don’t manage to do it. I was in exactly that position (and as it is February – I am again), where I wanted to slim down a bit. I was trying to eat well and exercise more but wasn’t losing the weight I was hoping to lose. So when my friends were asking ‘How many calories to you eat a day?’ and ‘How many calories do you burn off?’ I couldn’t really answer that.
So I started to go about this a little more systematically. I set myself a body-mass target that I wanted to achieve within a given time period. This allowed me to figure out how many calories I could eat each day to achieve that. My efforts were aided by some great gadgets to track my progress: My UpBand and my iPhone. Together, they help me monitor how many calories I eat and how many calories I burn off. Suddenly I had a simple and fun way of regularly and effortlessly monitoring the amount of calories I was consuming and burning. Surprise, surprise: I was losing the weight I wanted. This is exactly why weight-loss programs like Weight-Watchers work: they set targets, then help you to measure performance and regularly review progress. So here we have it, KPIs do work when you want to lose weight.
How KPIs can help you get fit
I am sorry to talk about another one of those New Year resolutions in early Feb, but when it comes to getting fit KPIs are great, too. To keep fit I am trying to run regularly and I am keeping track on how many miles I have run, what my average running speed is and how many calories I have burnt (which comes in handy when used together with the loosing weight app).
Anyway, those of you who know me know that I am a gadget man, so no surprise here: I use another iPhone App. This one is called RunKeeper. Each time I run the phone tracks (and maps) where I have been, how many miles I have run, what my average speed was, how many calories I have burnt, etc. What’s more, whenever I switch the app on to go for my next run it asks whether I want to challenge myself (e.g. go a little further or a little quicker). The app even allows me to compete against others and publish my runs (live) on Facebook or Twitter, which would allow my friends to track my progress and even cheer me on (don’t worry for those who follow me on Twitter – I am not going to bore you with my runs). So, in summary, I am running more often and am able to push myself further because I am measuring and tracking my performance. This means, KPIs help us get fit.
How KPIs can make your teeth shinier
My final example is brushing your teeth. We all know that we should brush our teeth twice a day for at least two minutes. A few years ago my dentist introduced a dental scorecard on which he gives everyone a score out of 100 – basically the better you brush and take care of your teeth the better the score. My score wasn’t bad and I was brushing my teeth twice a day but couldn’t really tell you whether it was two minutes or not. My dentist recommended using an electric toothbrush because it cleans better. And as I love gadgets I had to have the one with the little wireless wall display telling me how long I have been brushing for. What is good about that tooth brush is that you get a little smiley face after two minutes and a smiley face with a wink after two and a half minutes or so. Now that I was measuring and timing my brushing performance I had many times when I thought 'okay – brushing finished' – only to check my timer to find out that I have a little longer to go – and generally I keep going to at least the winking smiley face! Since I got that toothbrush by score on my dentist’s scorecard has improved to an almost perfect score. So, KPIs also give you shinier teeth!
I hope that these are useful examples to show that KPIs do work if the are used correctly. There are so many more great examples of where KPIs and metrics make a real difference and I would love to hear form you if you have any stories to share. Of course, there are also many examples that show how the wrong use of KPIs drives dysfunctional behaviours. I’d love to hear your views and comments. Please share your thoughts…