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KPI selection at Pennsylvania University, Office of Planning and Institutional Asssessment


KPI selection

“The key to selecting measures and indicators is asking thoughtful questions about how important accomplishments can be measured in an understandable manner with data that can be collected using a reasonable amount of resources.” ( The Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment)

The Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment is a support business unit for the Pennsylvania University, which is in charge of planning, improvement and assessment initiatives. The main purpose of the Office is to support departments and units to assess institutional needs, develop strategic plans, optimize key processes and create collaborative team environments.

The KPI Framework

The process of selecting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is part of the strategic planning framework. The pyramid below illustrates how the ”strategic performance indicators” and ”measures of performance” form the core part of this structure.

 KPI Framework

The top of the pyramind reflects the identity of the organization and where it whats to be on the long term (vision), while the goals outline exactly what has to be done in order to reach the vision.Specific strategies need to be implemented at operational level to support the achievement of goals, while measures of performance are used to monitor the progress made.

A cascading exercise is offered to better understand the process of aligning all these performance management tools form university level to college and department level.


As we can see, the goal is the same for all levels, but the measures of performance, strategies and initiatives are different. This illustrates that each unit contributes differently to the achievement of the goal and, therefore, different KPIs are needed to ensure the performance measurement system’s relevancy.

What can be improved to the current structure is a clear differentiation between the Strategic Performance Indicator and Measures of Performance. One option would be to use an objective instead of a strategic performance indicator, like ”Increase the quality of incoming students” for which we can select as KPIs such as # Mean SAT score and # Mean GRE score.

In this case, the goal will provide the general strategic direction ”Enhance Academic Excellence”, while specific objectives should offer a more clear image in regards to what needs to be done.

In regards to the last level of the pyramid – Strategies, Processes, Actions, Targets, it can be more clearly defined as Initiatives or Actions that have to be implemented in order to reach the objectives. Targets are directly related to KPIs, as they establish a desired level of results for each performance measure.

KPI selection criteria

Nine criteria were considered important when selecting KPIs:

  1. Importance for the University overall performance;
  2. Data obtained can support improvement;
  3. Reflection of stakeholder’s needs;
  4. Credibility for key stakeholders;
  5. Communicated and understood by the wide audience;
  6. Clearly expressed;
  7. Data collection does not exceed the benefits of measuring the KPI;
  8. Data sources can be identified and accountability assigned;
  9. Sustainable over more years.

All of the above criteria can be considered eligible and equally important in the KPI selection process. Research on this topic revealed that there are numerous criteria that can be used and the challenge is to filter all the options and come up with a resonable list. The more items or criteria the organziation has, the more difficult it would be to find KPIs that comply with all requirements.

The KPI Institute recommends that at least 3 criteria are considered when selecting KPI:

  • Relevancy – refers to selecting the KPI that best reflects the achievement of the objective and is important for the activity measured.
  • Clear definition – there is no ambiguity in regards to what the KPI indicates;
  • Balance – for the same objective, at least 2 KPIs are selected in order to monitor the objectives from more perspectives, like quality-quantity, efficiency-effectiveness or subjectivity-objectivity.


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