Stacey Barr is a specialist in strategic performance measurement and evidence-based leadership. Her purpose is to help leaders get tangibly clear about the results they intend to achieve in their organisation, to know how to recognise if and how well they are achieving those results. Stacey has authored two books devoted to the topic Performance Measurement which are, Practical Performance Measurement: Using the PuMP Blueprint for Fast, Easy and Engaging KPIs and Prove It!: How to Create a High-Performance Culture and Measurable Success .
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in various parts of South-East Queensland. I wasn’t a very social child and generally had only a few friends I would spend time with. I liked to be alone, and in nature – like out in the garden or at the beach – and never felt lonely. People often said to me “you think too much”, but that really was – and still is – a big part of my personality. I think a lot, I think about things deeply, and I think about abstract things.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
If I had realised that people really don’t care that much about who I am and what I do, I would have felt a lot more freedom to try harder things and fail more. Somehow (like so many other people!) I managed to spend most of my life worrying that others might think I’m not good enough. This holds us all back, so terribly much, from creating great things.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In my profession, which is organisational performance measurement, I am constantly battling against bad advice and recommendations! It’s a field that has evolved based on what is popular and not what is proven. There has been a dearth of good methodology for performance measurement. So bad practices have become common practice.
One bad recommendation is to use a brainstorming session to come up with KPIs or performance measures. This produces a random list of things that are often irrelevant, infeasible to measure, or not even true measures at all. Measure design has to be more deliberately based on quantifying the right evidence.
Another bad recommendation – which started a very long time ago – is to measure people’s performance and hold them accountable to hit targets. This use of measures to judge people creates a culture of gaming, which worsens rather than improves performance.
Even today, when analytics tools are everywhere and easy for even the non-analyst to use, there are bad recommendations for how to interpret our measures. It’s common to compare this month to last month, or this month to the same month last year, to decide whether performance is getting better or worse. This completely ignores natural variability, and results in us taking action when it’s not needed, and sometimes not taking action when it is needed.
It’s this history of bad recommendations about how to measure performance that my work focuses on changing.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
It’s hard to describe any part of my life as a dark period. Perhaps I’ve had a charmed life. Perhaps I’ve managed to focus on my circle of influence, and not have expectations that sit out in my circle of concern, where I have no influence. Whenever things have felt tough, I think I’ve mostly been able to accept what I couldn’t change, and gotten to work on changing the other things until I’ve been happy enough with the result. The darkest feeling I ever have is that I don’t have any influence at all over how my life unfolds. I’m not sure that is ever the truth for any of us.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Early in my career, I was lucky to be introduced to a model that helps you discover your worldview and priority values. It’s called the AVI. It helped me understand that my highest priority value is Minessence. This is a word the creator of the AVI, Paul Chippendale, made up because there wasn’t another word that captures its meaning. It means “to miniaturise and simplify complex ideas or technology into concrete and practical applications for the purpose of creatively impacting on the world-view of the user.” This value has driven how I do just about everything in my work. It’s how I created PuMP (my methodology for performance measurement).
What is your morning routine?
I typically wake up around 5 am, usually without an alarm. That’s when the birds start chirping loud enough that I realise it’s time to get up. I love the first half-hour of the day, taking it slow, and waking up properly. This half-hour is usually some light stretching, checking my Oura ring for my sleep stats, and drinking a Tianchi (adaptogenic herbs). Most days I will then do a couple of hours of cycling mountain bike training, other days will be indoor bouldering or yoga or a short run. Then I start whatever I have planned for the day, whether it’s work or chores, or recreation.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
The most useful habit I’ve practiced is setting boundaries. I easily could have been a workaholic if I hadn’t set boundaries around not working on weekends or in the evenings or before my morning routine. I have boundaries around when I will have appointments with clients versus when I will do deep work without interruption. I have boundaries around the kinds of work I will do and the work I will delegate or simply say ‘no’ to. I have boundaries around the types of food I will and will not eat. Boundaries give balance and freedom to so many aspects of my life.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The first strategy is boundaries!
A second strategy is being results-oriented. I want to be sure that I know the results that matter to me most, in both the personal and professional parts of my life. I don’t get caught up in getting things done. I like to start with the result I want, stay focused on that result (often with a measure of some kind), and experiment with ways to achieve it or improve it.
Another strategy is a system of annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily planning. It’s not rigid planning, but it keeps me conscious of the results that matter and deliberate about how I spend my time and energy to achieve those results. This system of planning means that on any given day, I am confident that the tasks I have scheduled (in Asana) are the best tasks for me to focus on next. It means I can easily delegate tasks to my team. And it means I can easily decide if and when I take on something unplanned.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
In my early adult years, my favourite manager gave me a copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, by Robert Pirsig. Apart from appealing to my love of motorcycles and philosophy, this book spoke to me about the organisation of ideas, both in the physical world and the abstract world of the mind. This has influenced my work significantly, in that I put a lot of focus on getting my thinking clear and then turning that into something tangible that others can easily understand and put to use.
Reading isn’t my favourite pastime – it takes too long! And I’m not a reader of fiction, partly for this reason too. So, unless I’m studying a topic deeply, I tend to scan and read bits and pieces based on the goals I currently have (personally or professionally), and then experiment with the ideas.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I don’t know who said it originally (possibly from Zen Buddhism?), but I love the saying that “how you do one thing is how you do everything”. It’s a reminder, for me at least, that attitude is a big part of who we are. Our attitude matters, no matter how small or big the thing is that we’re doing.
The four agreements, from the book by Don Miguel Ruiz, are, in a way, quotes I also strive to live by. Don’t take anything personally. Always do your best. Don’t make assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Time and again I find that any struggle I have can be eased when I remember to practice one or more of these.