On KPIs and giving actionable feedback

I was working with an intern recently and was struck by how much her work improved over a week. The reason: I gave her useful feedback that was clear and implementable. Her performance or commitment weren't issues - my poor feedback was the issue. Like everything else, it's simple when you know how!

We can't give employees results to aim for if they're not clear on how to actually achieve those results. Saying 'you need to improve' or 'get more sales' doesn't help anyone because it's not actionable.

*KPI = Key Performance Indicator

Actionable feedback is concrete steps an employee can take to improve a business outcome (e.g. customer satisfaction). Here is an example of two KPIs that a customer service staff member could focus on. 

  1. Respond to each customer service query within one working day.
  2. Complete customer service surveys after each promotional event.

The beauty about this is that it gives the employee an opportunity to measure their own progress and discover key areas in which to improve. The last point is a core tenet of productivity disciplines (i.e. 6 Sigma): the employee closest to the issue is empowered to find solutions because they are the person working in the area daily.

Employees know that they have to continuously improve, keep clients happy and be as productive as possible, but what's the best way to give them constructive feedback? Here are a few tips I found useful:

  1. Firstly, the person needs to commit to the concept of having KPIs and measuring them.
  2. Then, they must come up with their own KPI - but they can be given guidance or the KPI could be vetoed if it's not suitable. Management has their own separate KPIs (e.g. Net Profit). 
  3. There should be a maximum of 1 or 2 KPIs, not more. If there's more, then they're not 'Key'.
  4. The KPIs need to be directly influenceable and measurable by the individual.
  5. The individual needs to create their own simple way of measuring their KPIs.

Once the KPIs are created and agreed upon, the work can begin. At the start, the most important thing to focus on is the commitment to the process, not the results. Results take time - especially when introducing a new methodology. 

Then, a review of the KPIs should be done every week at the same time for no more than 20 minutes per team - this may take longer at first. If the employee does well, they should be commended (I know this is obvious but many managers don't do it so I'm still going to say it) - ideally in front of others. Or they should be given feedback and suggestions from the team. 

Finally, business, like sport, is a team game and should be conducted as such. The employee is accountable to their team (for best results), not management.

Good luck with the good feedback!