In the Community industry, there is a lot of talk about metrics — how to measure success, how to monitor the health of your Community, and how to prove ROI and business value. Knowing how and what to measure are critical components to understanding and advocating for your programs and team. However, one type of measurement is often not part of the conversation: individual, employee-level metrics.
Extending a data-driven approach to managing your community team members is a can’t-miss piece of your strategy to build alignment and define success on an individual level.
In this blog post, I’ll share my story as a people manager and discuss the work I’ve done to establish employee-level KPIs on the Community team at BigCommerce. I’ll walk you through my recommendations and actionable tips for creating your own individual-level KPIs, no matter what programs and goals your team has.
Let’s begin with a little backstory.
After moderating and managing communities for four years, I got the exciting opportunity to grow my own team and become a people manager. In 2016, I hired my first direct report at BigCommerce, and by 2018 my team grew by two more! During these initial years, my primary focus was hiring Community Moderators to help us provide great engagement and support experiences in our online forum. We were a small but mighty team. My Moderators were all promoted from our company’s Tech Support team and had an incredible depth of product knowledge. Our Community members loved interacting with them, questions were getting fast, expert advice, and things were really going well. Community sentiment was better than ever.
Then, one day, I was in a one-on-one with one of my employees and they said to me —
“I have no idea if I’m doing a good job or not.”
I was SHOCKED! 😱
I replied, “Of course you are doing a good job! I tell you that all the time! Our metrics look great! Our Community members are happy and our leadership thinks the Community is really valuable!”
They said, “but how do I know if I’m spending time on the right things? Am I even making an impact?”
I was able to point to a couple of projects that they significantly impacted, but beyond that, I was coming up short. It was at that moment that I realized *I didn’t actually have a great way to measure or track individual progress on my team. * 🤦🏼♀️
I had a set of metrics that we reported up to leadership that showcased the health and performance of the Community. However, they were so high-level that it was difficult to see how the work of one individual was really moving the needle. It was clear that we needed something different and more specific in order to better visualize and track our team’s progress.
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. Teams use KPIs as targets to measure progress toward critical business goals.
KPIs can also be used as targets to measure individual level, employee performance and progress. Individual KPIs are metrics that can help both managers and employees understand if they are meeting expectations, delivering results, and making an impact on the team or business’s overall objectives.
When measuring employee-level KPIs, it is important to first understand how they fit into the entire suite of measurement and reports for your Community team.
Employee KPIs are the last stop and the most granular level of metrics.
Community Reporting should flow from the top down:
- At the top-most level is your Business Value. This is your ROI layer. These metrics demonstrate how your Community program impacts your company and department’s strategic goals.
- Next, is the Experience level of measurement. This layer showcases how your Community is performing. What does the traffic, engagement, and adoption look like?
- The third layer of measurement shows you what’s under the hood. This layer is the Operations level of metrics. Here you can dig into the data to understand the user experience and behaviors of who is using the community.
- And finally (last but certainly not least) — employee-level KPIs. These are the measurements of individual deliverables that contribute to the success of the Community experience. This is a critical layer and it represents the work your team is doing to DRIVE all of the metrics reported above.
KPIs are a powerful tool to help Community Moderators to answer these three questions:
- Am I doing a good job?
- How do I know what to focus on?
- What kind of impact am I making?
It is up to us as people managers to clearly explain not only what’s expected and what the responsibilities are — but what level of results will meet expectations, exceed expectations, or need more work.
Having specific and measurable goals will help your team members feel increased ownership and autonomy over their work. Clearly explaining what level of results will meet expectations or exceed expectations, and what level of results needs work helps your team understand their personal progress. They’ll know where they stand and will be able to confidently know if they are doing a good job.
Another question that you might hear from your team is — “How the heck am I supposed to know where to spend my time and what to focus on?”
As you all know, Community professionals do A LOT of work — and a lot of different work. They can wear many hats, and support many different programs. They are also monitoring and engaging across multiple communities and social platforms. Not to mention, the work can be HIGHLY reactive. What dumpster fire is going off today? What thread is blowing up and needs attention ASAP?
There is an infinite number of tasks that Community Moderators can do in any given week. Especially as a new Moderator, it can be difficult to context switch and know where to focus their efforts. Individual KPIs are a way to highlight the four or five areas of their responsibilities that are the most important. This helps gain alignment and gives Community Moderators a North Star to manage their time and choices.
It can be hard to connect the dots from the ROI of the Community down to the day-to-day contributions of any individual employee. There are so many factors, tasks, programs, processes, etc that go into building a community experience.
It doesn’t make sense for an individual team member to be responsible (OR FEEL RESPONSIBLE) for those top-line goals.
KPIs will help here, too. They’ll put your employee’s work in context and help them connect the dots and understand how they provide value to the overall experience.
Now that we understand why individual performance KPIs can be helpful, let’s take a look at the best practices and criteria to use when developing KPIs goals for your team.
SMART goals are a framework for goal setting. SMART is an acronym, and each letter represents criteria for goal setting. Anytime you are creating a goal, these are great standards and checkpoints to keep in mind.
- Specific. When setting a goal, it should be narrow in scope, very targeted, and as clear and concise as possible. Your goal should clearly outline the who/what/how of what you are trying to achieve.
- Measurable. Get specific with your target. How much will you achieve? For a goal to be measurable, you need access to the data and consistent reporting. If you are unable to track how much progress has been made and quantify it in a report, it’s not going to be a good goal to set.
- Achievable. Whatever your goal is, it needs to actually be something that your team has the power to influence and accomplish. Be realistic about it, and don’t set your people up for failure.
- Relevant. Is your goal aligned to the goals of your team? Your org? Your business? If not, pick a new goal.
- Time-Bound. Any good goal needs a deadline or due date. Your employees need to know what time period you are measuring their productivity. Is it weekly? Monthly? This should be spelled out in your KPIs.
In addition to the standard SMART framework, there are other considerations to keep in mind when building employee-level productivity KPIs.
First, be careful not to select a KPI that could be shared with another employee. For example, if you have two employees moderating the same space or sharing ownership over a task, you’ll need to figure out a way to make the KPI as granular as possible and specific to only one person’s output.
You don’t want to put your employees in a situation where they are dependent on each other for their individual performance results.
Similarly, individual KPIs should not be dependent on outside factors. It is important for your team to have complete autonomy and control over their ability to influence this number or goal.
And finally, a word of caution — developing individual KPIs for your Community team is not a one-size-fits-all approach. They might not be a good fit depending on your programs, goals, organizational culture, or the tenure of your team.
There are Community roles where this model of productivity tracking won’t be applicable. You might have roles on your team that are less task based, have less day-to-day consistency, or maybe they are more senior or strategic in nature. Instead of KPIs, measuring success through OKRs or program-level SMART goals would probably be a better fit.
Now that we know what makes up a good Community KPI, let’s look at an example of this framework in action.
Begin by thinking about what aspect of your Community you want to affect. Do you want to improve engagement? Give better support? Ensure expert answers are given? Start at the community performance level, and think about the big goals of your space. Are there areas that need improvement? What would bring the most value if you could improve that area? Brainstorm and select 4–5 big areas of focus per role. These will become your employee-level KPIs.
Your next step is to determine the daily, CONSISTENT activities your employees could take that would influence and move the needle on those focus areas. Make sure you dig into the data here to confirm your theories. From here, you can now confidently start drafting your KPIs.
As you are drafting your KPIs, don’t forget to run them through your SMART criteria.
Once your KPIs are drafted, it is time to build your reports and define success. For each KPI, you’ll define four targets for success. Expressed clearly through a numerical range, outline what weekly results will exceed expectations, meet expectations, do not meet expectations, and be unacceptable. At BigCommerce, we award a score for each level. Exceeding expectations awards 3 points, meeting expectations is 2, does not meet is 1, and unacceptable is 0 points.
This is a crucial step and another point where data research is key. You’ll want to thoroughly understand activity levels and capacity in order to select the right success targets.
After that, you are done! Hooray! Time to roll it out and share the KPI targets and goals with your employees. Start by documenting your KPIs and publish them in a shared workspace where they can be easily accessed by your team. Anytime we make significant changes to our reporting, I’ll organize a kick-off meeting with the team to explain the new measurement system and field any questions. From there, you are good to launch. Take the first 3 weeks as a trial period and calibrate with your employees as needed.
Consistent reporting is key to building trust with your employees and making employee KPIs a successful tool for tracking productivity and progress.
Our goal is to be completely transparent with our employees about what we are measuring, how we measure it and give them access to every report we use to pull data and track their success. My employees have these links and reports bookmarked and typically pull the reports a couple of times throughout the week to monitor their own progress.
As managers, every Monday we review and compile the KPI results from the previous week. We pull the data via established reporting and communicate the results to each employee individually in a private Excel spreadsheet.
Finally, having KPIs and Excel reports are only one part of the equation, right? It’s how you use this data that really matters. We have weekly check-ins and coaching sessions with our team so everyone has all the tools and help they need to be successful. We review the KPIs results together and use that as a jumping-off point for our conversation about how employees are feeling, how their week is going, and how we can support them more.
I’ve got a confession to make — I have probably updated our KPIs and completely reworked them at least 3–4 times (or maybe more like 5–6 times). 😉
This is perfectly normal. Don’t be afraid to always be in test-and-learn mode.
In the beginning, this was a hard lesson for me to learn. I really wanted to nail it on the first try and pick the best KPIs possible. I thought it would help make my team feel more confident and comfortable if I could magically select the best KPIs and have them be set in stone forever.
But, that’s not how it works at all. Things change. Your community and your roles will evolve over time, and the more you measure and investigate, the more you’ll learn. It is OKAY to change KPIs over time as needed. Your team will actually thank you for it. Updating your KPIs shows that you are always listening and you want to measure what makes the most sense and brings the most value.
My next lesson is that employee-level KPIs are only one small part of the story. What you see in that Excel report each week is just a signal to what could be going on under the surface.
Use these weekly reports as a jumping-off point for your conversations with employees. If a target is too difficult (or too easy) to attain, ask why. You might discover that there is a skill gap or a motivation issue, or maybe it is just a goal that needs adjusting.
For example, on my team at BigCommerce, we have a Resolution Rate KPI for our Developer Community Moderator that is measured weekly. This employee is a total rockstar, but they were having trouble consistently hitting this target. The more we investigated the conversations happening in our developer spaces, we learned they naturally take a lot longer to resolve. There is a lot of thread depth and troubleshooting back-and-forth that makes it difficult to “resolve” the thread and select a “best answer” within a week. This investigation let us know what was going on under the surface of the data. We needed to adjust this KPI to meet the needs of the Community, and better set our Moderator up for success.
And finally, I’ve definitely made the mistake of setting up employee-level KPIs that were not SMART and didn’t deliver meaningful results for our Community. A great lesson to never skip the SMART criteria step of goal setting! 🤦♀️
At one point, our employees had a weekly KPI target to send out physical thank you cards as a reward and recognition to contributing Community members. On the surface, this was a great idea. Our goal was to improve the culture and bring a sense of gratitude into our space. However, once we put a target around this activity (mail 10 thank you cards per week), it sucked all of the meaning out of it. We started gaming our own KPIs and we sent out a lot of cards for almost no reason other than just to hit our goal. It was a waste of time and wasn’t delivering the value we truly wanted.
Remember that building employee-level KPIs is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Your team and roles may require different methods of goal setting and tracking progress.
I hope these tips and best practices are helpful and can guide you when looking to set individual, employee-level goals on your Community team. I’d love to hear what you think and what you are doing as a people leader to help your employees manage their day-to-day workload! You can find me on Twitter at @Laurenfaye512.