Some Thoughts about ‘KPIs’

Oh Gawd... Helpdesk: Final Level. Pray
Helpdesk: Final Level

KPIs or “Key Performance Indicators” are considered a vital management tool to measure staff performance. But especially in aviation, we must be very much aware of the weakness of the KPI idea.

Service

An old question on KPIs is “How do you calculate ‘service’?” If the company does good product, service is of low need. Their KPIs are low valued. So service is frequently outsourced by those wise guys (and gals). On the other hand, if you produce crap, “service” covers for it (or should) and is in great demand. Then it is easy to generate good KPIs. Large call volumen, strong problem solving, low loss of customers.

But in both cases, good service usually needs “reserves”, so if you keep your head count low, once something happens (and that’s rarely under controlled circumstances, prepared for or in the responsibility of the service team), you need “all hands on deck”. If you outsourced your service to save money, that’s when the bill backfires on you…

Flight Attendants

Image : -die Welt-
Image: -die Welt-

Another good example are flight attendants. They are not there to serve your every whim, they are not the “Saftschubsen” (juice pushies) they are often disrespectfully named. Once you had your very first inflight emergency, you hopefully start to understand their real value.

Why is it that I know senior airline managers  who still try to argue that you need one or two flight attendants less on the flight for service reasons and they have to be reminded of the requirements by aircraft makers and governmental aviation bodies that that many flight attendants are certainly needed to evacuate aircraft.

So what’s those KPIs all about?

In my experience and not just mine as I see from discussions and comments, KPIs are being (ab)used by accountants (up to CFO or CEO) to “measure” stuff they do not in reality understand. KPIs are also used to discourage staff from working beyond the line of duty, to find “reason” by disqualifying them from benefits and bonuses.

There’s a good reading on KPIs in Marketing. Addressing the immeasurable impact of your competitors action. Or that you hardly ever launch a single marketing campaign, but you’re likely firing on all cylinders, ain’t you?

Very, very few companies understand that KPIs must be used without “threats”, not as a “measure”, but as a means to improve products, services. What’s the number of complaints? How have they de- or increased and not just that, but most important why. Don’t “blame”. The “blame game” is for shortsighted idiots to play. KPIs can be set together in a team for motivation. If they’re dictated (openly or implied) by your boss or worse, used against you, they won’t work.

Airport Control CenterThere was some buzz on LinkedIn this week on Disruption Management. Bringing to mind how an airport I worked with disqualified their own historic KPIs as trash by implementing a check on the reasons for disruptions. Where before the airline was responsible for the brunt of all disruptions and delays, suddenly ATC, weather, ground handling or security became clear problems. But in the past it was so much easier to click “airline” and not research what was the real cause. So the real cause never got addressed. To low on the KPI scale. Whooops.

There was also a very good article about KPIs and triggers on LinkedIn. It clearly votes for “internal triggers and motivation”.

Don’t get me wrong. On any projects I worked on in the past years, I used KPIs and Milestones. My own that is. But if I would have made them my mantra, I’d have achieved nothing ever. As a fire-fighter, you don’t care about the water spent. You blow out the fire. And at least for me, my KPIs and Milestones are taken like all good plans. They hardly ever survive meeting reality. So I don’t take them for granted, I adjust them to reality and use them to measure the planned vs. the achieved performance to identify why I turned out better or worse. Not for blame. But to learn to better forecast… To learn for the next project to apply KPIs that are more realistic.

While Einstein said: “Not everything that can be counted counts. And not everything that counts can be counted.”
Drucker said: “If it cannot be measured. It cannot be improved.”

Crystal Ball Aviation Network PlanningBoth are right, but if you make numbers the only thing that counts for you, you have no vision, will never make a dream come true. KPIs are a tool from a large tool box. It needs an master artist to sculpture something beautiful out of someone’s imagination. It’s so similar to what we do at CheckIn.com. We crunch numbers, but we cannot predict the future. Don’t believe in the numbers only. But use them to solidify (or disqualify) your intuition! But I would have bet against some new routes in the past ten years that turned out surprisingly stable business! It takes guts to sometimes run a controlled risk. If you don’t play, you cannot win. Then use your own previously assumed KPIs (also i.e. load factors, yields) to learn.

What’s your experience with KPIs?

How do you use them?

Food For Thought
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