Category Archives: Data Startegy

Manage your business with Key Performance Indicators for Growth. My #7 principles.

Everyone has heard about key performance indicators – measures which give you a brief understanding of how your business operates and creates value for customers. Three essentials that each CEO is watching are revenue growth, costs and cash flow. But those KPIs are on the top of the iceberg. Underneath there are many other, much more strategic KPIs which can be revealed and can serve as a lighthouse to help you sail on restless seas and oceans to strengthen your resilience and reduce vulnerability. But the key question here is how to find them.

Have you heard about the concept of a strategy map? The strategy map is a simple visual tool that helps you decompose strategy objectives like “cost reduction by 5%” into smaller and manageable ones like “waiting time reduction by 3%”. It presents logical, cause-and-effect relations between objectives and clarifies the value stream through domains like finance, production, people, technology etc. The power of this tool is to present business strategy on a very tangible level and what is more, provide a transparent way to achieve it.

However, you will not be able to control your objectives without proper measures. Those measures we call Key Performance Indicators – KPIs. Below I am presenting my top seven principles for KPIs that must be met.

KPIs are like a compass

Do you have your strategic objectives already shaped? Wonderful. Do you know how to measure them for driving growth? Each of the established objectives should be followed by one well-defined and tailored KPI. I would be far from creating various KPIs for one objective and then linking them for making sense of it. Simplification is a buzzword here for not losing crucial metrics from your radar.  Too many will only distract you and blur the straight interpretation.

KPIs reflect business dynamics

The next thing worth remembering about KPIs is that they must be dynamic. KPI which doesn’t change frequently is totally useless, especially in a fast-moving business environment. Your resilience is as good as you can react to appearing obstacles and disruption. Ideally, you should be able to track progress daily to make adequate decisions.

KPIs are standardized across the organization

Standardization is your ally to ensure that people are looking from the same perspective or seeing the same picture. Keep handy, for all users, KPIs’ descriptions, and examples of how they can leverage them at work to improve performance. Due that people within your organization can use a common language and easily discuss chances and challenges in achieving similar results.

KPIs show what “good enough” means

Maybe it is not very political, but targets or goals should not be stretched. They should be realistic. Maybe you would say that to be successful you must be very ambitious, but frequent setbacks might have a very negative influence on your and others’ motivation (read more about the topic in my previous post). The experience of achieving goals strengthens people’s confidence, which might flourish as an improvement for future performance.

KPIs are easily accessible

If you want people to start using a specific tool or device, you do not hide it, do you? On the market, there are plenty of reporting platforms or software that can provide people with direct and easy access to information. Links to those tools should be placed on the intranet in a visible place. In addition, the information about reporting system should be included within onboarding materials.

KPIs are communicated

Sounds obvious, right? Often, it is not. Many times, even though we have KPIs and strategies in place, our employees are not aware of them. Some ideas stay on the management level, and they are not cascaded down. Regarding the strategy and goals, the organization should keep in the loop all employees, because everyone participates in its growth, and everyone is needed to create a value stream for customers. Because success is nothing more like the sum of small efforts and small steps achieve daily by individuals.

KPIs are used on daily basis.

Last but not least. Finally, people must feel the benefit of checking KPIs daily in making better decisions and choices. This is the hardest part of the entire process. Changing people’s habits and behaviours is not piece of cake (here you will find some strategies for change management). Design processes in a way to force people to use KPIs. Otherwise, you can spend billions on developing a new strategy and implementing new technology, and all those efforts would be a waste, just because nobody is interested in using it.


How a daily dashboard can boost the motivation of your team.

I learnt a new concept – inner work life. Inner work life is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (read an interview with authors) did research on 238 employees in 7 companies and studied nearly 12 000 diary entries to find out how a mix of daily mood, emotions, self-perception, and interactions with other people in an organization can influence progress at work. The results of research and strategies for managers are described in the authors’ book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work”.

Many managers try to solve the puzzle of how to boost the motivation of their subordinates. Many employees struggle with their own demotivation and lack of engagement which ruins their sense of purpose. Research shows that there are two main triggers that influence positive inner work life – progress and setbacks. Even small daily progress at work has a tremendous positive impact on our mood and motivation at work that can last for a few days, however, it is a double-edged sword. Small losses or setbacks can have negative effects. Nevertheless, except for those triggers to maintain positive inner work life, people need additional stimulants called by the authors: catalysts and nourishers. Catalysts are actions that directly support work like proper tools, help from colleagues or well-designed processes. Nourishes relate to interpersonal interactions like getting respect and recognition and being encouraged by managers or colleagues. But those stimulants don’t have a such critical influence on bad vs good mood day as an experience of progress or setbacks (more to read about research result).

Now we know the concept of inner work life in a nutshell. This concept is much more important for jobs where people have to deal with complex tasks and need to leverage their problem-solving skills or rely on their creativity. Of course, there are jobs where this idea can be hard to implement for instance in easy repeatable work, but I believe that in such cases introducing some elements of concepts can significantly impact the quality of the work and people’s well-being. However, before we can benefit from positive inner work life as an organization and individuals, we must rethink how do we understand progress and which tools we would like to use to track it.

How the power of progress can be leveraged in organizations

Establish what progress means for you and your team

Many of us see progress as something like a milestone, a tremendous change from one state to another underestimating small changes which in fact summarize into those larger ones. But exactly those small daily steps bring us closer to achieving the most ambitious goals. To run a marathon, first of all, you must put your shoes on and step out of your house. Many organizations are too focused on their goals, and they are forgetting about the road that leads to goals. But in fact, that road enables those organizations to learn and grow.

Chunk long-term KPIs into manageable pieces

Another thing to be concerned about is how goals are defined in the organization. Of course, there are annual goals, which from the bottom of the organization can be seemed as abstract and hard to achieve. To make them more tangible for employees, they should be chunked into small, manageable pieces. For instant. It’s great to have an annual sales goal of $2mln but to hit this target each employee must at least calls 10 clients per day. Those daily calls can be treated as progress.  

Plan work in daily iterations

If your organization works in weekly cycles, shifting toward finishing daily tasks will be a challenge. Especially when you must change the behaviour of planning. Planning daily tasks is more demanding because you must think deeply about what you can do and when, what should be done first, and which tasks are critical or can occur as bottlenecks. It is much easier to set weekly or monthly goals and then pray to accomplish them. Someone would say that such granularity is micromanagement. But the devil is in the details. Those tasks should be prepared by the team, not by the manager.  People should have the autonomy to plan their own work and feel responsible for the plan execution.  Otherwise, the power of progress won’t work.

Use the Kanban board to track and visualize progress daily

One of the great tools that show how teams and individuals are moving forward is Kanban Board.  Kanban board is widely used in any type of industry, where some products are produced like in manufacturing or IT. But there is nothing against leveraging it for other fields like HR or even accounting. This board is designed to visualise workflow to identify and limit work in progress. The secret of this tool is its simplicity. The board consists of a minimum of three columns: to-do, doing, and done, where tasks are moved from left to right to show progress and help perform a work (more on Kanban Board). The huge power of this board is to give team members the physical ability to move their own tasks forward from to-do to doing, from doing to done. It creates in people a true sense of accomplishment when they can see in front of their eyes how tasks are getting status done.

Remove obstacles and toxins

Ok, we can see with our eyes of imagination how we are moving tasks on board without any interference, but it is not a reality. Most of the time during the day we must struggle with many obstacles like not responsive people, irrational procedures or not working processes and tools. It is even worse when the success of our tasks depends on others’ work, and whether we want it or not, we need to wait for their availability. All of those can in a magician’s way turn progress into setbacks. Setbacks can be more powerful than progress because of their dark nature of experience. Managers should be aware of that force and support their subordinates to solve those issues to reduce as much as possible any frustration. Longer setbacks weaker people’s motivation and lead to a negative inner work life that destroys someone’s efficiency.

Celebrate daily progress

How about starting a new brand day with recognition for yesterday? If you made yesterday’s progress, why not celebrate it? For that, you can introduce a daily stand-up meeting, when you share with a team yesterday’s achievements, ideally in some visualized form. Present such metrics as won deals, new prospects, number of processed documents or produced products, created new ideas for marketing campaigns or resolved incidents. Anything that is meaningful for your team and can represent their engagement in work.

Leverage data

Most of the data which can serve you for this purpose are already available. Currently, most organizations don’t have issues with obtaining data but with making sense of them. You just need to ask yourself and your team, what should be displayed on the daily dashboard? What are the main factors or triggers that give them sense of purpose, generate progress, and bring them closer to achieving committed goals? What data they would like to see because they can alert them that things are getting out of track?

Principles of the daily dashboard for progress tracking

Focus on daily tasks

If your team supports customers’ incidents maybe, they are not interested in the first place what is a customer satisfaction rate but for sure they are interested in how many incidents were resolved and in which handle time. Customer satisfaction rate can be displayed as beside metric, which gives them sense of purpose and shows the direct impact of their work. But, essential for them are their own tasks, that are mentioned in the job description, because at the end of the day they will be accounted for them.

Design dynamic KPIs and goals

I’m static poses lover as practising yoga is one of the key elements of my lifestyle. However, many do not share my passion. If you want to use KPIs (key performance indicators) as a tool that helps you monitor daily work and makes better decisions, those metrics should be designed to reflect changes on a daily basis if possible. We must keep common sense in here, of course. If work is in weekly cycles, we won’t be able to present any accomplishments during the week, but it doesn’t mean that we can not display progress. Maybe we can present how many issues were open during the day? Or maybe we can present how many of them moved into another status? With that approach, we can track how our work is moving from one point to another and have a chance to notice any blocks or unwanted behaviours.

Design daily benchmarks

Where possible, I encourage creating and using benchmarks. This reference point can act as an alert or goal and its evaluation provides meaningful information about the quality and performance of your work. This benchmark can be designed based on the average performance of previous days or weeks or established as the desired goal.

Show critical alerts

What should be included on a daily dashboard, in addition to progress, are metrics monitoring critical processes. Many companies have commitments that translate into specific actions. One such is, for example, the SLA (service level agreement). Most of us have experienced those SLAs when complaining or returning a product to an online shop. In both cases, the deadline for consideration of the complaint and the return of funds is agreed upon. Look for those critical KPIs and don’t miss them from your radar.

Create positive narration

Last but not least, remember to design a daily dashboard in a manner to boost people’s motivation not the opposite. Focus more on team effort than individual performance (see my post about the cooperative vs. competitive approach). Try not to overwhelm them with details. They should see a clear path to their success. Give them actionable metrics which can be managed and improved by the team. Most people like to feel that they are sitting behind the driving wheel.

Can reporting influence the cooperative vs. competitive culture in organizations?

I’m continually amazed when I hear about the importance of building cooperative culture and what I can mostly see is still reinforcement of a competitive one.

New trends across all industries are putting more stress on promoting employees’ team-player characteristics and glueing the teams for better outcomes. There are many talks inside and outside companies about building such an attitude. The shift in mindset is mainly required on the leadership level where change can be driven and cascade to the rest parts of the organization.

Why leaders should care more about cooperative culture?

The aggressive competitive culture for many years was recognized for delivering overperformance results, but the question is it in fact true? Why promoting individuals over entire teams is the better strategy for the company? Most companies have common goals and vision, and they strive to make any single employee shares those principles. Does it not sound like one huge team of people who must collaborate to achieve one goal? So why do managers on lower levels often act differently and throw people into competitive situations?

Once, one of the managers told me that employees like to compete and this is how they are driven to be better at work, but I remember that team mostly as frustrated and surly people. Of course, we hold the competitiveness in our nature. We compete with our peers for better jobs or with co-workers for a rise or promotion. But looking from a helicopter view, I am questioning its positive impact from the company’s growth perspective. To illustrate this, imagine a soccer team. You can have one or two spectacular stars, but you need eleven players to win a game. Even those two superstars will not win a game for you. You need the effort from the rest of the group. What is more, your team is just as strong as the weakest player. And here we are touching on the pros of a cooperative attitude.

What makes cooperation better than the competition?

I worked in many industries and companies with different cultures, and I can honestly admit that the more stress was put on collaboration, the better memories I have about the atmosphere and delivered results. Of course, some people may raise their voices that if you did not track individuals’ progress, people would be tempted to cheat and not put in as much effort as they could. But my point is not against tracking individuals’ progress for people management purposes, just not presenting those statistics to the team.

Learning from others

The undoubted advantage of a strong collaboration approach is the overall greater capability of the whole team as a group due to sharing between them best practices. To translate for the business purpose an old proverb that says you need an entire village to raise a child, people can learn from other experiences and discuss with colleagues how to approach problematic clients. They can even participate together in meetings with clients just to observe the behaviours and responses of more experienced colleagues. Learning on the job has been proven to be the fastest way for people to acquire new skills or master existing ones. Sharing knowledge would be beneficial for all, younger and more senior members, while younger can exchange their energy and fresh look on things with balanced manners of seniors.

Supportive environment

Many times, private life interrupts professional. You can be accidentally sick just before closing a deal with your key client, or you immediately must be on the second end of the country to help your parents with their health problems. As we are all humans and most of our business partners will understand the situation, in consequence, the business processes will be on hold. Would not you feel much calmer knowing that in your absence your cases are moved forward, and customers are still pleased? And what about solving problems? How to leverage brainstorming sessions if people have in the back of their heads that they should not reveal their best ideas? To maximize outcomes you need to build trust. Trust will not grow in a competitive environment.

Business continuity

Both above-mentioned potential advantages are crucial to ensure business continuity. Just think how the image of your company would suffer in the eyes of your customer if you can not replace smoothly the employee who suddenly got sick for a longer time.  As a manager, one of your goals is to mitigate risks and make sure that all your processes are covered and fully operated. Having a group of people with similar skills and knowledge is a guarantee of stability from the company’s point of view.

What role does the reporting play here?

The reporting reflects vision, strategy, expectations, and corporate aspiration or at least should. If your reports do not provide supportive information to drive a business, it literally sucks, and you should do homework on how to force your data to work for you. However, before you leverage data, you must think about what message you would like to convey.

I’m always emphasising that by having the same data set you can tell several different stories and draw other conclusions. The factor here is a perspective and an end goal. The management must ask themselves if they would like to support a culture that creates stars that can shine very brightly but for a relatively short period or prefer to invest in a team which takes part in relay-race and win together.

To depict how we can promote cooperative or competitive culture by reporting tool let us compare the two below sketches (BTW, sketching is a great tool when you are working with clients, but it is a good topic for the next post).

More competitive dashboard

  • Design the dashboard for a sake of the possibility to compare team members’ performance.
  • Create an overall ranking where you can present the undisputed leader of the race.
  • Colour laggards in red or orange to emphasize them even more.
  • Keep records daily to present the progress and gaps of each team member to the leader. You can even present the historical dynamics of the race.
  • Display dashboard on a wall screen.
  • Keep a record of the best performers from previous months on the Wall of Glory.

More cooperative dashboard

  • Forget about individual performance. Focus on the Team performance.
  • You can use natural competition drivers toward other groups like teams from the same department but serving other markets, teams from different departments or if you have an opportunity towards your market competitors. Show them a common “enemy” to reinforce them as a group.
  • Show the team’s current progress in comparison to goals or targets.
  • Highlight “good news” like positive growth of KPIs or faster pace of attaining the target.
  • Display the daily progress to emphasise and award daily work.
  • If your company culture is promoting giving KUDOS present them on the dashboard. That great recognition from peers for someone’s hard work shouldn’t be unnoticed.

I have only scratched a surface of the topic, but whatever approach is closer to your HR strategy remember that how you use, and display data will amplify some underlying behaviours and attitudes.  For organizations that aspirate to be data-driven, there is no escape from thinking about data at a strategic level and using them to serve specific purposes.