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Mastering KPIs: A guide to fearless team productivity

By: Salesloft Editorial



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During a volatile time, returning to the basics can help your organization regain some wins. But how can you quickly achieve this? Our suggestion is to implement or improve your Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs.

KPIs are best used to inform the activities of your most revenue-impacting teams — sales, customer success, delivery, and marketing, to name a few. These powerful tools can drive organizational focus, employee engagement, and empower your team of sellers to push the limits of what’s possible for them and the business.

However, despite their potential benefits, many companies shy away from KPIs because employees show  apprehension towards how critical they can seem. Let’s delve into the reasons why people are sometimes afraid of KPIs, and how organizations can address these concerns to foster a positive and productive work environment at such a pivotal time in many industries. 

Addressing fear of judgment and inadequacy

Metric-only based evaluations can be intimidating, especially if you feel like the measures aren’t accurate. Making judgments about team members can be daunting for managers as well. Your sellers may worry that their value and contributions will be reduced to a mere number or that said number is used to make decisions out of context. 

These fears can stem from concerns about job security (especially in today’s market), promotions, or receiving the rightful recognition. As a result, your sellers and their managers may feel undue pressure and anxiety, leading to a negative perception of KPIs.

Strategies to encourage employee acceptance:

  • Talk about the current KPIs with your team, unearth places they feel create an unrealistic analysis of their usual day to day
  • Ensure your team knows that KPIs are just one of many ways their work will be evaluated
  • Gently remind them that job performance is always going to be a part of having a job
  • Be respectful when you speak to them and be open to feedback
  • Let them know that this is not a way to justify a RIF or PIP
  • Address any ongoing anxiety about KPIs on a regular basis

Focus on development and growth

Emphasize the developmental aspect of KPIs rather than solely focusing on what can feel like a zero sum game of evaluation and rewards. Promote a growth mindset, and provide resources and opportunities for employees to enhance their skills and capabilities. 

Building trust and transparency around KPIs

Trust and transparency are essential for your team to fully embrace KPIs. Establish this PRIOR to any KPIs being discussed. Because if there is a lack of trust in the environment, and in the objectivity of assessments, employees may perceive KPIs as tools for manipulation or favoritism. Without trust and transparency, your sellers may fear that their efforts will go unrecognized or be unfairly evaluated.

So, let’s bridge those trust issues together with this useful set of steps below:

  • Make it clear to your team that you are using real-time data to improve their performance, not just monitor it. You’re uncovering ways for them to be better sellers and reach their desired outcomes more effectively.
  • Create an environment where employees feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from failures without fear of retribution. Foster open communication channels to address concerns and provide support. And listen to their concerns when they bring them up.
  • Involve employees in the goal-setting process to establish fair and transparent KPI measurement and evaluation processes. Let them provide regular feedback, and give them recognition on a regular basis, too, to build trust and confidence.

Fostering a positive reputation for KPIs

In some organizations, KPIs are only associated with negative consequences — harsh penalties, public humiliation, and punitive measures. Those are a means for punishment, not improvement. So of course, sellers would naturally develop fear and resistance towards them in those conditions. The perception that KPIs will lead to negative outcomes can hinder employee motivation, collaboration, and overall performance.

That’s not the goal at all. But we have tips to combat this, too.

How to reverse a negative perception of performance metrics amongst your team: 

For an easy slam dunk, build in positive outcomes to hitting or exceeding a KPI. Socialize these wins, and publicly tie them to company goals so others in your organization can see the impact your team members are making. Also, ask your team what they would like to stay consistent on when it comes to these measures. One slip on this, and they will stop being motivated by the possibility of a positive outcome or recognition.

Provide a plan to solve and support any missed KPI measures, sharing in your team member’s accountability and showing that you’re invested in their success. If a positive outcome is achieved after a miss, share or upskill your success plan with others within your organization.

Find ways to collaborate around and celebrate wins that people truly enjoy. 

Setting realistic expectations for KPIs

If KPIs are poorly defined, overly challenging, or ambiguous, your team could become apprehensive or demotivated. It makes it difficult for individuals to understand what is expected from them and how their performance will be assessed. What does it take to meet expectations? What does it take to exceed them? But be careful here, too. You don’t want to encourage box-checking behavior either and end up with an unrealistic depiction of what’s really happening day-to-day. This is all too common. But there are ways around it.

Tips for resolving unrealistic expectations on your team:

  • Start with what’s possible and clearly describe what greatness looks like. This will take more time than you think because business revenue is often propped up by one sector or a few outlier reps that bring in a larger portion of revenue. So get clarity for yourself with each team, and then share it with them to validate, optimize, and gain buy-in.
  • Balance the realistic with the challenging. Until your team trusts your view on their reality, you will never win them over on KPIs.
  • Only connect KPIs to activities that move the needle. Keep them realistic and back it so that the ‘user’ doesn’t have to report on them; it is monitored and comes out in the activity data. This is an undertaking, but this is a key linchpin to having clean data that can help you figure out what behaviors need to change and which are creating the best results.
  • Set clear expectations: Make sure that your KPIs are well-defined, attainable, and aligned with organizational objectives. Share the WHY behind the numbers. Communicate expectations transparently and be open to regular feedback from your sellers who are working under this new system.

Balancing control and autonomy 

Employees may fear KPIs when they perceive them as restricting their autonomy and control over their work and schedule. If KPIs are imposed as rigid benchmarks without involving employees in the goal-setting process, your team may feel stifled. The fear of losing flexibility and being reduced to a narrow set of metrics can lead to resistance and aversion.

Bring a true sense of creativity and innovation into the KPI process:

  • Encourage collaboration and autonomy by balancing the need for measurable goals with opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and autonomy. Give employees the freedom to explore innovative approaches and provide input in setting relevant KPIs.
  • Be open to their feedback! If sellers on your team push back and aren’t given an answer (or worse, nothing changes), they are likely to revert to one of the “bad habits” as described above—or even check out entirely.

Embracing fearlessness: Transforming your approach to KPIs

While some individuals may exhibit fear or apprehension towards KPIs, organizations can proactively address these issues by fostering a supportive and transparent work environment. By setting realistic expectations, promoting trust, encouraging growth, and valuing collaboration and autonomy, companies can mitigate the fear of KPIs. You can then unlock their full potential, with KPIs being a tool for employee empowerment, performance enhancement, and organizational success.

Like most things in business, be clear on what outcomes you’re wanting to drive and remember the entire context you are working within. Don’t try and drum up some KPIs in hopes that the trust needed to make them successful is already there. Take a moment to evaluate your goals and your hardworking seller first. Then, involve the adults you are looking to motivate in the process, and foster a culture of transparency, growth, achievement, and success that’s truly worth celebrating.

If you need more help with making this a reality our Consulting Services team is here to help.

Bonus: What’s next after you nail your KPIs?

Once you have the KPIs in a good place, it’s a good idea to start coaching your team. These resources can help you continue the journey: