Losing our way: How the cult of the KPI has damaged our moral compass


The Sydney Morning Herald | June 15, 2018

The Sydney Morning Herald article, “Losing our way: How the cult of the KPI has damaged our moral compass," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Peter L. O'Brien about how "softer" personality traits are becoming more important in assessing people on their performance. The article is excerpted below.

Why did they do it? That is the question that springs to mind when trying to explain systematically bad behaviour.

It was asked when recently it emerged Commonwealth Bank staff were inappropriately setting up bank accounts for children. Victoria Police pondered the same thing when its officers were found to be inflating breath test bags themselves.

Both problems were so widespread that individual staff could not reasonably be punished. There are many more examples both here and overseas not least exposed at the banking royal commission.


At the executive level, companies are now being urged to stop looking at the past performance of potential recruits and to look outside their own industries for new leaders. The obsession with financial targets is giving way to a search for future executives who are humble enough to accept advice and brave enough to disrupt their own industries.

Headhunter Peter O'Brien, as managing director of Russell Reynolds Associates, helps some of Australia's biggest companies in the financial services, retail, technology and healthcare find new chief executives and set new priorities for their performance.

The global leadership advisery and executive search firm takes a counter-intuitive approach to hiring leaders in avoiding candidates with years of experience in the same sector. It could mean people with a background in manufacturing or IT end up heading a retail corporation.

O'Brien assesses the ability of leaders to deal with a changing economy according to personality traits that include heroism balanced with vulnerability, to prevent fortitude turning into self-delusion. Leaders need to take risks, but be able to see if a business is headed for a cliff.

"The softer issues are becoming much more important in assessing people on their performance,' he says. "The traditional leader is no longer the solution for the future."

To read the full article, click here.

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Losing our way: How the cult of the KPI has damaged our moral compass