4 Dos and Don’ts For Leveraging KPIs to Improve Business Results

Leveraging KPIs does not always go as planned
Leveraging KPIs does not always go as planned

Rewind 20 years ago, our systems and processes did not always provide the data and reporting that we needed to effectively run our business. Today, with the incredible advances in most CRM, BPM, ERM (insert acronym here) systems, we often have too many numbers available to us. There are real time, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reports on calls, contacts, tickets, service levels, SLAs, survey results, financials etc. etc. etc.

Like any business tool, numbers and reports are only valuable if you know how to use them. For some leaders, managing numbers comes naturally. For others, it does not.

Here are 4 dos and don’ts for deciphering the numbers game and helping your leaders leverage reports and KPIs to improve business results.

1) Don’t get tunnel vision –  Do look at the big picture

When you receive a KPI report or dashboard, do not react when you see strangely high or disturbingly low numbers. Instead, pause and step back to look at the entire picture. What direction is your team going in- up or down? How does the performance look on average, not just for the most recent week?

In general, I am not a fan of making judgments from an individual week of results, because there are too many dynamics that can influence the numbers. Instead, look at cumulative results- month to date, quarter to date and year to date, or week over week trend results. Both views provide a more accurate depiction of individual, team and department performance.

2) Don’t address everything and everyone – Do focus on the outliers

Because we have access to so many numbers, we could spend hours or days crunching and reviewing stats, but that would not be a good use of our time. Instead, focus your attention on the outliers: the employees or sub-teams whose results are materially higher or lower than the team or department average. This will likely be 10-20% of the total employee base.

If you have a cracker-jack operations reporting team, ask them to design the reports in such a way that it is easy to spot the outliers. (Check out Bernie Smith’s excellent videos on how to improve the design of your reports.)

3) Don’t think like a statistician – Do think like a detective

If you are a fan of police and detective shows like I am, you know that the evidence does not always tell the story. You need to understand the motive and the why, behind the behavior, in order to solve the crime.

Before you start performance managing your outliers, find out the causes (why) behind the performance- both high and low. Ask yourself and the employee(s) questions such as:

  • Did the employee take time off?
  • Did the employee attend internal training?
  • Did the employee work on a special project?
  • Is this employee using new tools or processes that are more effective than other employees
  • Is this employee more experienced that other employees

Sometimes low performance is a good thing. An employee may have been selected to work on a high profile, customer project with your boss due to their knowledge or experience, which took them away from their usual, day-to-day activities.

Sometimes high performance is a bad thing. When numbers look too good, it could mean that an employee is not following the correct process or may be “gaming” the system.

4) Don’t just lead or lag  – lead and lag

To effectively run a sales or service operations organization, you must look at both diagnostic and activity reporting, plus outcomes or results reporting. You must leverage both leading and lagging indicators.

Why? This allows you to see a full picture of the performance (no blind spots) and allows you to focus attention on the upstream activities that lead to your end results.

  • Leading Indicators: Activities, are the set of tactics, behaviors that you will use to achieve the desired outcomes. (e.g. calls answered, contacts made, cases closed, surveys returned)
  • Lagging Indicators: Outcomes are the “critical few”, most important things that you want to achieve. Outcomes are the measurable, end results.  (e.g. SLA achievement, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty)

Think about the life of a marathon runner. Before he or she runs a marathon, they train with a set of activities that may include running shorter distances, weight lifting, yoga etc. By consistently completing these activities, they increase the chances of achieving their outcome, which is winning a marathon. The activities lead to the outcome.

Every business has their own set of activities that lead to the outcomes. As a leader, think about coaching your team on the activities (upstream in the process) to more consistently achieve the outcomes.

Last, goal your team on the outcomes, not the activities- or you will get activities.

About Marci Reynolds, Guest Blogger

Marci Reynolds, based in Boston, MA USA, is the Director of Operations, Global Help24, at ACI Worldwide, an electronic payments software provider, and the author of the popular, Operations Blog. Prior to ACI, Marci led successful sales, customer service and operations teams for the past 15 years at prestigious organizations including Monster.com, Staples and Deluxe Corporation.


  1. Avatar James Lawther on December 28, 2011 at 13:05

    Do like the point about tunnel vision

    How about adding “don’t look at the point do look at the pattern”


  2. Avatar Larry R. on February 6, 2012 at 16:07

    I think it is important to really be able to dig through the data rather than just react to seeing the data as a whole in order to address the issue at hand.