Using Red Yellow Green Performance Indicators Examples That Are SMART

By Tiffany Chepul

success criteria for kpi

dateThu, Dec 16, 2021 @ 09:00 AM

Each KPI and Priority should have clearly defined success criteria. What is success? What is failure?  red, yellow green performance indicatorsDiscuss, debate and agree as a team.

Sounds simple, right?  

For many teams, setting Red-Yellow-Green (RYG) business success criteria is a challenge. It doesn't come easily for everyone. Fortunately, it's a skill that can be learned. 

First and foremost, success criteria should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic & timely) red, yellow green performance indicators are critical to hitting your goals and targets. Below are a few examples of using SMART red, yellow green performance indicators in the real world. RYG meaning red is substandard performance, yellow is marginal performance and green is the target performance.

1. Leave no performance metrics up to interpretation. 

A carefully selected green success criteria should leave no room for argument or nuance. It is what it is. Example: The KPI is “Employee Health.” An effective Green would be a survey result score or a retention number. An ineffective Green would be "Employees are happy."

2. Performance metrics doesn't always mean a number. 

There are two ways to RYG a Priority: tactically or with a number. For tactical priorities, sometimes Green describes an outcome. You should know when you achieve it. Example: The Priority is "Develop an M&A Strategy." An effective Green would be "Strategy defined and approved by the board" by the due date.

3. Try to avoid using dates. 

Priorities, by definition, already have a due date. KPIs also have a time parameter defined; sometimes it’s understood as a quarterly number, or the description identifies it as a weekly or monthly number. Green must define a result - using dates does not align a team on an expectation. Example: The Priority is "Hire a new VP of Sales" and the due date is March 31. An ineffective Green would be “3/31.” An effective Green would be "Hired, trained and operating independently" by the due date of 3/31.

4.  KPIs, by definition, are metrics.

The RYG success criteria for KPIs are always defined by a number. Example: The KPI is “Sales Revenue.” An effective Green is “$24M.”  Learn more about OKRs vs KPIs.

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5. Red Yellow Green success criteria should describe and drive results. 

Consider this example: the Priority is "Complete 2 marketing webinars." Instead of saying Green is “2 webinars completed,” base it on results. Green is “100 leads generated.” Simply completing the webinars won't drive sales. Completing a webinar that nets 100 leads will impact results.

6.  Frame RYG criteria within the quarter time frame. 

Even if a priority will take longer than a quarter, define success and failure in terms of a 13 week race. How far do you need to get by the end of this quarter?  Performance reporting should be based on your progress during the set time frame. 

7.  Make sure Green makes sense. 

Consider all the steps needed, or sales needed, to achieve Green on a Priority or KPI. Is your green goal realistic? Can it be done in the period you've defined? Setting unrealistic goals will kill morale and execution. 

8.  Is the team aligned on RYG success criteria? 

RYG criteria should be set as a team during your planning session. There should be no surprises, and everyone should have input and agree on the criteria. You don't want to find out in your Week 8 Weekly Meeting that you and your VP of Sales weren't on the same page on an expectation. RYG business examples will help you set the correct Red, Yellow, Green SMART success criteria.

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Looking for some additional OKR examples to help get you started? 

OKR vs KPI: What’s the Difference Between OKRs and KPIs and Why You Need Both?

OKR Spreadsheets: Why You Should Upgrade Your OKR Software Game

OKR vs KPI vs MBO: What the Best Goal Types Have in Common

Using OKRs for Your Weekly Team Meeting

OKR Video: How to Get Started with OKRs and the Best OKR Software

OKR Examples for Manufacturing: Measure What Matters for the Quarter

OKR Goal Setting Steps: 5 Keys to Drive Better Results

SMART Goal Setting Theory: To Create SMART Goals, Start With “Why”


Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

This blog was originally published Mon, May 8, 2017 @ 09:00 AM and has been updated on April 30, 2019 by the publisher. 

Tiffany Chepul


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images