For some teams and companies, KPIs come with an infuriating paradox.

The busier you are, the more important your KPIs become – but the less you look at them.

Why is that?

November and December are some of the busiest business months of the year. There’s Black Friday, the run up until Christmas, not to mention the squeeze created by extra holiday days.

So as we get into the holiday rush this year, we wanted to explore the reasons why KPIs can become less visible, and what you can do to prevent this.

Are KPIs more important during peak periods?

It’s not that your KPIs are more important during busy periods – your KPIs are always important. But they do have the potential to change at a greater rate, so you need to pay closer attention to them.

That’s because during periods of increased activity, your metrics are likely to carry more variance. For example, take a KPI you have become comfortable checking once a week. If overall business activity doubles then so does the potential that metric has to change. Now, checking it once a week is the equivalent to checking it every two weeks.

Good KPIs are also designed to spark action and support decision making. And because peak seasons represent a disproportionately large opportunity for business success, the actions we take and the decisions we make can have a greater impact.

For example, in retail and ecommerce, holiday shopping in the US in 2021 is expected to rise 7% vs 2020, totalling $800 billion. But it’s a market that also carries enormous amounts of risk, especially this year – as a result of everything from supply chain disruption to unpredictable consumer behaviour.

Simply put, bad decisions during this time can end up costing you more.

KPIs create focus for your team

KPIs are especially important for your team during peak season.

The first is motivation. Visible KPIs are a great source of intrinsic motivation, especially when they establish the connection between your team’s hard work and the company’s overall purpose. As the work comes thick and fast, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and disengaged. Whereas regularly being able to see your progress, in the form of live KPIs can create a sense of pride, ownership and renewed motivation.

The second is focus. It’s possible for your team members to go off on a tangent if they don’t have a clear sense of goals and priorities. In normal times, this isn’t good, but during busy periods, wasted time and resources can be far more damaging. KPIs are one of the best tools you have for continually aligning your team’s work around your priorities. But this only works when those KPIs are front of mind.

Why can KPIs become less visible during busy periods?

If your system for communicating KPIs suffers from even minor issues related to access or understanding, then those issues will be exacerbated during peak season.

There are many reasons you might not be able to access your most important data:

  • It’s stored across several platforms
  • Those platforms require you to log in
  • Accessing the data takes multiple steps, such as multiple reports or having to filter the data
  • The data is managed by a gatekeeper who needs to pull the data manually each time

Similarly, there are many barriers to understanding your most important data.

  • It’s visualized in a way that requires you to spend time working out what’s going on
  • It’s still in a raw format and has not been visualized at all
  • The visualization doesn’t relate to how you think about whatever system or process it is reporting on (we sometimes refer to this as your ’mental model’)
  • It’s difficult to see changes in the data – either recently or over time
  • The most important changes are not highlighted in a way where you notice them quickly
  • There is no context to tell you whether the data is good / bad / normal / changing

Overcoming these barriers requires work – whether that’s the mental work involved with understanding a bad data visualization (such as a huge spreadsheet or, worse, a pie chart), or the physical work involved with getting a colleague to run a report for you.

During quieter periods, we might not even register these tiny tasks as anything other than a mild inconvenience. But during busy periods, when stress-levels are high, and our bandwidth is completely dominated by other things, it’s often the tiny tasks that are the first to go neglected. It’s the business equivalent of letting your laundry pile high, or not washing the dishes.

Viewing your KPIs is crucial practice (and you likely already know it is). But as a task, it just doesn’t always feel as urgent as the most recent customer call you received, or responding to that last email from your investor.

How can I make my KPIs more visible during the holiday rush?

You need to increase the visibility of your KPIs – but at the same time – reduce the work needed to access and understand your data.

Let’s start with reducing the mental work that goes into understanding your data.  

If you haven’t already, you should create a live dashboard for your most important KPIs. Your dashboard should be understandable at-a-glance. That means: if it spreads across multiple screens or requires you to click around, then it’s not really a dashboard.

If you already have a KPI dashboard, you should think about how you reduce the mental work involved in understanding your dashboard (sometimes we refer to this mental work as the ‘cognitive load’). We recommend taking a look at our free ebook on how to design and build a great dashboard.

Next, you should reduce any and all tasks associated with accessing your KPIs. Make your KPIs come to you – not the other way around. If you work in an office, the best way to do this is by putting your dashboard on a TV on the wall. Checking your KPIs will become as intuitive as checking the time.

If you work remotely, there are some great alternatives. Think about the spaces in which you and your team are most present – your emails, your Slack channels. Create regular, automated snapshots of your dashboard that come direct to you.

You might think that creating a KPI dashboard is a lot of work. (And with some tools and platforms, it can be.)

But Geckoboard focuses on making the whole process quick and seamless. Connect your data from one or more of 60 available data sources and off you go. Most of our customers can create their first dashboard in about 15 minutes. It’s that easy.

However you choose to present your KPIs – focus on reducing the work involved in accessing and understanding your data. If you can do this, even for the tiny tasks, you will ensure your data is there when you need it the most.