The Importance of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Your Business

Learn how to establish and monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the success of your business plan.

people discussing their kpi

What is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)?

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a quantifiable metric businesses use to track their progress toward achieving company objectives. KPIs offer valuable insights that facilitate informed decision-making to reach certain goals. Regardless of the industry, company, or project, KPIs should always relate to specific objectives and provide an overview of the organization’s performance.

Metrics vs. KPI: What’s the Difference?

It’s common for people to use the terms “KPI” and “metric” interchangeably, but they are different concepts. A metric measures some aspect of your business, such as revenue or website traffic. A KPI, on the other hand, is a specific metric used to measure progress toward a particular goal or objective.

As an example, if you are trying to increase revenue, a metric you might track is total sales. However, a KPI related to that goal might be the percentage increase in sales over a certain period.

What’s the Difference Between a KPI, a Target, and a Goal?

While the terms KPI, target, and goal are often used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings in business performance management.

  • KPI – a measurable value demonstrating how effectively a company achieves its key business objectives. It’s used to track progress over time and identify areas for improvement.
  • Target – a specific, measurable objective a company wants to achieve within a particular timeframe. It is often used with KPIs to set clear benchmarks for success. Targets should be challenging but achievable and aligned with the company’s goals.
  • Goals – broader, more long-term objectives that a company wants to achieve. They often define the company’s overall direction and vision and may include multiple targets and KPIs.

Why are KPIs Important?

Key performance indicators are essential to ensuring your team’s alignment with the organization’s objectives. The following are some of the primary reasons why KPIs are important:

  • Ensure alignment among your teams – Keep them on track, regardless of whether they monitor project success or employee performance.
  • Check the company’s health – Measure everything from risk factors to financial performance.
  • Make adjustments – Give an accurate picture of your successes and failures so you know what works and what doesn’t.
  • Make your teams accountable – Provide employees with feedback and managers with a way to track progress.

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What Makes a Good KPI?

To ensure a good and effective key performance indicator, it should possess the characteristics of SMART Goals:

What Makes a Good KPI - Smart Goals

  • Specific – A good KPI is straightforward, leaving no room for ambiguity. It should clearly define what is being measured and how success will be determined.
  • Measurable – It should be quantifiable so that it can be tracked over time and compared against targets or benchmarks.
  • Actionable – It should offer insights that lead to actionable decisions—to identify areas for improvement and determine what works for the organization.
  • Relevant – The KPI should directly align with the specific goals of the organization so that it’s easier to measure against overall success.
  • Time-Bound – To facilitate real-time monitoring and timely decision-making, set KPIs should follow a definite timeframe.

Types of Key Performance Indicators

KPIs come in many variations but all of them are linked to strategic goals. Here are some of the most common KPI types.

Strategic

These key performance indicators track overarching organizational objectives. Executives commonly rely on one or two strategic KPIs to assess the organization’s performance at any time. Some examples are Return on Investment (ROI), revenue, and market share.

Operational

Key performance indicators (KPIs) usually evaluate performance over a limited period and concentrate on organizational procedures and effectiveness. Several examples include regional sales, monthly transportation expenses, and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).

Functional Unit

Key performance indicators often relate to specific functions like finance or IT. Finance KPIs track return on assets and gross profit margin, while IT may track time to resolution. It is also possible to classify these functional KPIs as operational or strategic.

Leading vs. Lagging

When defining key performance indicators, it’s important to distinguish between leading and lagging indicators. Leading KPIs are predictive while lagging KPIs are retrospective. Organizations utilize a combination of both methods to monitor crucial information effectively.

KPI Framework

Several frameworks help organizations effectively measure and track their performance. Below are a few of the most popular KPI frameworks:

Management by Objectives (MBO)

MBO is a goal-setting process that involves translating organizational objectives into individual goals through a management system. The strategy aims to direct individuals and groups towards actions that enhance overall achievement.

Objectives and Key Results (OKR)

Objectives and Key Results establish a specific and challenging objective, accompanied by 3-5 Key Results to support it. The key results provide a roadmap for achieving the goal and include KPIs. It’s recommended to use a scale of 1-10 when scoring key results, with 10 indicating high ambition.

One Metric that Matters (OMTM)

OMTM is a framework for improving only one KPI over a set period. For example, a marketing team might focus on improving its Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). A sales team might focus on enhancing its Average Order Value. The entire team works together over weeks or months to improve that KPI. And in the process, they uncover the next OMTM to focus on.

Balanced Scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard framework enables performance evaluation from four distinct perspectives, followed by establishing goals and KPIs for each area. Typically, companies utilize it in a strategic capacity.

How to Set KPIs in 6 Steps

Establishing clear and measurable goals is essential for long-term success as it allows your organization to identify areas of progress and improvement. Here are the steps to help you set effective key performance indicators:

1. Identify the Purpose Of KPIs

Consult with individuals utilizing the KPI report to determine their objectives and intended applications. This process can assist in identifying KPIs that hold significance and usefulness for business stakeholders.

2. Connect Them to Strategic Objectives

KPIs must align with business objectives to be effective. It’s essential to align key performance indicators with overall organizational goals, even if they are specific to certain functions like Human Resources (HR) or marketing.

3. Establish SMART KPIs

KPIs that adhere to the SMART formula are considered to be effective. When setting goals, it’s essential to ensure they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. A few goals examples are “Achieve a 5% quarterly sales growth” or “Raise the Net Promoter Score by 25% in the next three years.”

4. Make Sure They’re Clear

A clear understanding of the KPIs is crucial for all members of an organization to take appropriate actions. Data literacy is significant in this process, enabling individuals to work with data and make informed decisions to achieve desired outcomes.

5. Iterate as Needed

Reviewing and adjusting your key performance indicators may be necessary as your business and customer base evolve. Some may be irrelevant or need to change according to performance. Ensure you have a plan for evaluating and adjusting performance measures.

6. Avoid KPI Overload

Business intelligence provides organizations with extensive data and interactive visualization tools, facilitating the measurement of various metrics. Concentrate on KPIs that will make the biggest impact to avoid overload.

FAQs About Key Performance Indicators

Key Performance Indicators can be measured weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Ideally, companies should track a KPI every week when setting monthly goals, such as sales goals. Frequent KPI measurement can lead to a misallocation of resources.

Developing non-financial KPIs for departments such as HR, Support, or Marketing may seem challenging to some. However, these KPIs don’t solely focus on non-financial aspects; they evaluate factors that indirectly affect financial or long-term performance. For example, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is a leading indicator of repeat purchases.

KPIs should be reviewed regularly to track progress and identify areas for improvement. Organizations should also consider setting targets for each KPI to ensure they are moving in the right direction. By tracking these metrics, businesses can make data-driven decisions leading to increased profitability, improved customer satisfaction, customer retention, and overall success.

Rather than just reporting out numbers and metrics, KPIs provide you with a comprehensive picture of the health and performance of your business, enabling you to make critical adjustments to your execution to achieve your strategic objectives. You can achieve results faster if you use the right KPIs.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.