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Why the best kpi for company success is... your mom Annick Vandezande - January 10, 2017

Michal Parzuchowski  Unsplash  Resized

Management guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying that "you can't manage what you can't measure." He of course meant that you can't know if you are successful unless success is defined and tracked.

I’ve worked for over 16 years at some of the big 4 management consulting firms which were very focused on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). I frequently took part in KPI cascade exercises, KPIs dashboard optimizations and KPI evaluations. I never liked them. They always froze, frustrated and paralyzed me more than they ever motived me. At ‘that’ time of the year, I would get ambushed by people with fully prepared check box lists which were based on rigid templates created by our HR department.

The lists were pretty straightforward. If you reached target X, you were in for a promotion. If you reached target Y, you received an extra bonus. Those KPIs were obviously related to financial revenues and chargeability of some kind. But they were all about the numbers, not so much about the people behind them. Customers were mostly out of the picture: never mind if they were over the moon with the solutions you provided. Plus, nobody seemed to really care if you inspired co-workers on your project. What mattered was how much money you made.

Companies are fuelled by passion

Companies are not charities, obviously. Let’s not be coy about that. But I truly believe that money is not their primary fuel. Passion is. It’s the enthusiasm of talented people accomplishing something big together. It’s when a team becomes something more than merely the sum of its individual employees. Call me a softie but that desire for a warm, homely environment is what drove me to switch jobs last year and leave the big 4 behind to help kick start nexxworks together with my business partners Rik Vera, Peter Hinssen and Steven Van Belleghem.

We are now one year further down the road. And, in that time, nexxworks has more than doubled in size. One of the secrets of our success is how we keep looking forward. Just recently - the week before Christmas - we reflected on our future, both in the long and short term, while assessing the past year at the same time. In those 2 days, we came up with some pretty ambitious plans for the years to come. We did that together, as a team. You could almost see the energy when we started to translate our shared vision into tangible projects. Now, I’m not naive. It will be hard. We might not get it right from the start. We might need to pivot, and change direction.

Hard KPIs won't help you grow

But I DO know one thing and that is that we will NOT be defining KPIs for those projects. Hard, financial KPIs are NOT the way to ‘define success’ and ‘measure progress’. I survived them for about 16 years, but that’s literally everything I can say about them. They did not help me grow or develop new skills. They did not stimulate me to collaborate any better. They were not designed to help me please our customers more. In fact, I accomplished all of those things in spite of those dreadful KPIs.

It is Dan Levin, the COO of Box, the online document storage company, who inspired me most about this topic. We had the privilege of speaking with him on one of our recent innovation tours to Silicon Valley. The values on which he runs Box and which all employees share with him are truly unique. Besides ‘getting shit done’ they all just want to make their ‘mom proud’. He says that the mere combination of those two deceivingly simple elements is what fuels their success. I can only agree to that, so that’s what we are going to do at nexxworks.

Empowerment comes with responsibility

So, we are NOT going to push hard KPIs onto our team, because that will certainly not inspire them to achieve greatness. We hired our people because we believe in their talents and we are going to offer them the freedom and power to use those talents to wow our customers and help their colleagues grow. I’m not going to lie. That kind of empowerment is scary if you’re running a company. But I believe it’s the only way if we are going to survive the war of talent and the speeding up of disruption.

It’s a group effort, though. Empowerment comes with freedom, but also with great responsibility. I love how our team had fun with the concept: in those 2 days of reflection in December we all wrote our New Year Resolutions: everyone gathered their aspirations and ambitions for the coming year and read them out loud as a promise to the others. After one year, at the end of 2017, we will revisit them, to see if we kept our promises, and if not, why we took another direction. That’s the kind of ‘KPIs’ we like: human, honest and passionate.

A human feedback loop

But that’s not all. There’s a second part. There will be a feedback loop, because that’s the only way we can grow professionally. But it will not be driven top down. It will not be a checklist. It will not be about numbers. Our feedback loop is horizontal, and nomadic. We’ll twin people up, so they can help, stimulate and, yes, even (positively) criticize each other when it’s necessary. And these twin-sets will be continually switching every 2 months, so that people with different talents and backgrounds can keep surprising and teaching one another. THAT is how you build a company that lasts: with empowerment, passion, trust and horizontal support. THAT is how we will get shit done and make our moms proud. And THAT is how we will fulfill our New Year Resolutions.

Passionate about innovative company cultures and extreme customer centricity? Join ourCustomer-Centric Culture Tour in Las Vegas next month to visit true champions - like Zappos - in the realms of organizational structures and cultures!

Annick Vandezande By Sarah Oyserman 1 Web 72Dpi
Annick Vandezande

With more than 15-years of experience in the big 4 consultancy firms and as a former Director of Technology Consulting, Annick has a true passion for bridging business and IT. Her in-depth...