KPIs Reinvented: 5 Ways to Keep People Inspired

Leaders can keep people inspired, show they care, and hit metrics to achieve organizational success.
Employees celebrate meeting their KPIs

Have you ever received a nickname from your coworkers that ultimately became your identity around the office? For me, the name “Money Merbler” stayed with me for a good portion of my 21 years in the corporate world. When I first heard it, I thought, “It’s catchy, and I kind of like it.” It was an endearment of sorts because I was the individual known for turning a bleeding profit center around. There wasn’t an office team or region that I couldn’t transform into a money-making machine that consistently hit its key performance indicators—better known as KPIs—and sat atop the regional scorecard.

Yet, for me, as a top producer for many years, money was no longer the motivator it once was. Simply chasing KPIs for myself and my team lost its luster and drained me mentally.

Don’t get me wrong: Organizations need KPIs. Their purpose is to drive metrics and revenue and hold people accountable for the work they are paid to do. A business requires accountability to be successful. But in today’s workplace, the message derived from KPIs is not conducive to driving performance. Successful managers use KPIs to balance leading with accountability and leading with empathy.

The secret to success isn’t to track key performance indicators—it’s to Keep People Inspired. Here are five tips to motivate and inspire your team. 

Five ways to keep people inspired

1. Understand your employee’s values

When we first begin our career, we all have things that are important to us: money, benefits, opportunity, etc. As a young corporate employee, I was most driven by putting more zeros in my paycheck and climbing up the corporate ladder. As employees go through life experiences (i.e., COVID, growing a family), they often reevaluate what is most important to them.

After speaking with leaders throughout “The Great Resignation,” it’s clear that money is not the be-all and end-all for so many. Leaders are often left wondering why the raise or bonus check they handed their top producing employee didn’t keep them satisfied. But it shouldn’t be so surprising when studies show that purpose, flexibility, and wellbeing have bubbled up to the top of the priority list for many.

Remember, an employee’s values can evolve during their tenure at an organization. Ask questions in your one-on-one discussions to understand what’s most important in their life now. It is equally important to ask “why,” as this will help you to gain some context behind their core values and why it is important to them. When leaders show an authentic interest in learning about employees, this reinforces to employees that you genuinely care, and that they are not just a number on a company scorecard.

2. Discover their strengths

Consider these two words: motivate and inspire. Many leaders are asking, “How can I keep my team motivated.” Instead, they should be asking, “How can I inspire each member on my team to be their best?”

Many leaders think they know this answer, but it is often misunderstood (I am an excellent case study!). Leaders often see an employee performing well in a certain task. Understandably, they give them more of that same task to do, when in reality, that task is draining them. Instead, ask your employees, “What do they wish they could do more of,” and “What do they wish they could do less of?”

Shifting back to my alter ego “Money Merbler,” I used to motivate my teams by lighting a fire under them to hit their KPIs rather than lighting a fire within them. Back in those days, I spent little time being concerned with what inspired them or what they valued most. Those were hard lessons learned as I look back on my corporate career—not to mention the countless hours I lost retraining new hires because I couldn’t retain employees.

3. Don’t talk about metrics in every meeting

Change the narrative. If every meeting that happens when you bring your team together or do a 1:1 is focused on metrics, revenue, and profit and loss statements, you may be emphasizing things that are important to only a few where the majority may feel underappreciated, undervalued, and disconnected.

We require both management and leadership to operate any truly successful business. Without management, the accountability of important tasks may fall through the cracks, and without leadership, people fall through the cracks. As James Clear states in his best-selling book “Atomic Habits,” “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you rise to the level of your systems.”

4. Embrace authenticity 

Authenticity is an actual currency. Employees will be inspired if their leader is willing to share their own struggles. People are human. Employees need to understand that their leader is not perfect. Instead, be willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility. This can inspire an employee who doesn’t feel like they can do anything right sometimes. 

5. Be present

Sometimes all it takes is paying attention to your employees and alerting them to what they are doing right. Many are experiencing burnout and feel overwhelmed carrying extra workloads as staffing shortages persist. When we show employees that we notice how hard they are working, it inspires them to work harder. Simple compliments like, “I noticed XYZ,” and, “You matter,” could mean a lot more to someone than you might think.

By leaning into these five tactics, leaders can keep people inspired and show they care and hit metrics to achieve organizational success.

If you’re looking for actionable ideas on how to keep people inspired at your workplace, check out this culture playbook for a clear plan on how to build a people-centric culture of trust and belonging.