KPIs and Targets

The acronym ‘KPI’, which stands for ‘Key Performance Indicator’, is something that is relatively new in our conversations. In contrast, objectives (or targets) have become more deeply embedded in our activities. So what is the difference? An objective defines what you want or where you want to go. For example, quoting from Vision 2021, ‘To achieve and sustain research excellence’ is an objective. A KPI, on the other hand, is a measure of how well we are doing on the path to achieving the objective. It follows therefore that in setting our objectives at the outset, they must be quantifiable. So, we might decide to measure research excellence in terms of the number of 4* publications for REF, or the amount of research grant income per annum for a given unit. Critically, we must know how many 4* outputs or how much research income we need in order to have achieved our definition of excellence,  ie to reach our objective. This is why it is so important to have crystal clarity on what the objective means in practical, quantifiable terms.

So why are KPIs important – isn’t it just bean counting? Definitively not.  KPIs perform the important role of telling us whether we are on the right trajectory to meet our objectives. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, a strategy is a ‘living’ document that needs to be modified in response to external pressures. How do we know whether we need to change it? -through analysis of KPIs. Hence the old adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Without KPIs, we could blindly follow a given path, only to find 5 years or so later that we’ve been wasting our time.

So what KPIs are relevant for SAgE? That’s largely up to us – we can choose whatever KPIs make sense, but I would suggest that they must not be too difficult to quantify. The important thing is that they effectively measure our progress on the journey to our Vision 2021 objectives.

Council will want to know how we are progressing towards our Vision 2021 objectives, and we will report to them through KPIs later this year. Over the summer we will therefore be refreshing KPIs in each school – thoughts on the appropriate measures are most welcome.


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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3 Responses to KPIs and Targets

  1. Personally, I find the language of the Vision 2021 objectives rather unspecific (appropriate for that so of document), but before we develop KPIs in would be good to have unambiguous “targets” or sets of targets for each objective (accepting of course that these should be under revision and might change). Unambiguous targets for 2021, that we commit to (within reason), are a starting point in relation to which we develop KPIs (which of course are also informed by our understanding of HOW to get from where we are now to where we want to be).

    So Steve: I’d be interested to hear what you think an appropriate measure for whether SAgE meets (in 2021) a couple of University’s research an innovation Vision 2021 objectives (for a start):

    (1) “to grow areas of strength and address areas of weakness to achieve international excellence in all we do” [that is couched in REF terms, so are we basically thinking of REF style metrics, e.g. every academic at 3* level, or something different?]

    (2) “to develop an innovation culture embedded throughout the University” [I don’t even know where to start here, invention record form numbers, patents granted, start-ups, licensing income, or something more fluffy?]

  2. Pingback: Olympic Fever | Steve's Blog

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