KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are being challenged by a new concept – the KPAs (Kids Party Approach) 🙂

The following snippet is taken from the research paper “Multi-ontology Sense Making” by David J. Snowden

Imagine organising a birthday party for a group of young children. Would you agree a set of learning objectives with their parents in advance of the party? Would those objectives be aligned to the mission statement for education in the society to which you belong? Would you create a project plan for the party with clear milestones associated with empirical measures of achievement? Would you start the party with a motivational video? Would you use PowerPoint to demonstrate to the children that their pocket money is linked to the success metrics for the party? Would you conduct an after action review at the end of the party, update your best practice database and revise the standard operating procedures for party management?…

…No, instead, like most parents, you would create barriers to prevent certain types of behaviour. You would use attractors (party games, a football, video) to encourage the formation of beneficial largely self-organising identities. You would disrupt negative patterns early, to prevent the party becoming chaotic or necessitating the draconian imposition of authority. At the end of the party you would know whether or not it had been a success, but you could not define (in other than the most general of terms) what that success would look like in advance.

OK, I’m not saying that systems centred around people are exactly like kids parties… 🙂 but there are some similarities – you can rarely guarantee precisely what your return on investment will be in advance when deploying collaborative technologies, but you do know it’s the right thing to do. The challenge is getting the bean-counters to agree…

Here’s another example:

[One] credible part-time Blogger on $500 a month, writing from the front lines on their behalf could have saved Kryptonite millions of dollars. Not to mention decades of slowly-and-painfully built brand equity.

Read here for the full story. The article describes how a company lost millions by not solving a product quality issue quickly enough and failing to respond to criticism that quickly spread thanks to the Internet.

Now imagine you run a successful company where operational costs are tightly managed (nothing unusual) and somebody suggests you pay somebody to just write a blog about your products – the good, the bad, and the ugly. No guidelines, minimal boundaries, zero measurements… Not many CEOs would be very agreeable to such a proposal. And imagine asking the legal department…

This is the challenge with any system involving people – knowledge, messaging, learning, collaboration, portals, social networks etc. You know that such a system will provide some benefits and could provide huge benefits to the business, but it is damn near impossible to prove ROI in advance. You will always have plenty of evidence after the fact, but ‘told you so’ provides little comfort when not doing something leads to trouble. This is one of the reasons why ‘bottom-up’ implementations of technology tend to be the most successful – by providing value at the grass-roots level for minimal cost, avoiding the need to come up with measurable ROI in advance.

It’s not much consolation that plenty of management gurus have tried explaining this challenge:

97% of what matters in business can not be counted – W. Edwards Deming

Oh dear!

If you are not prepared to start viewing people as an asset to the business, instead of a cost, the success of any system centred around people will be, at best, limited by the drive to measure predictable and quantifiable value. How about trying KPAs next time?

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