Targets in Business: Shoot To Kill

Targets are great. They give us something to aim at (duh!). Targets point us in the right direction. They give everyone a common goal. Targets are clear and unambiguous.

All correct. If that is, it is the target you want to hit. If you want to do something else then setting and even hitting targets won’t help at all.

Turn off the Targets and go out and do something less damaging instead…

The “something instead” is to improve your business as your customer would like you to. Targets will take you in an entirely different direction. For example, many call centres have targets about how long it takes to pick up the phone. They express them in the form, “90% of calls must be answered in 30 seconds”. Fine. Nice target. But what about what is important to the customer? Sure we want the phone to be picked up before our body breaks down and turns to dust. But actually this is the third time this week we have called about this problem and while they do pick up the phone very briskly, they aren’t doing what I want.

Measurements of activity are bad enough, but slap a target on top and you are guiding staff and manager behaviour away from customer purpose and toward hitting that target instead.

Think of the stories about the NHS fiddling the figures about waiting lists. Some of them were changing behaviour like admitting patients to beds to meet the four hour targeted wait in A&E, others were pure diddling of the numbers by the staff making returns to central government in order to be seen to hit the targets. Which is worse? I couldn’t possibly comment. Safe to say that both actions are caused by the target setters and those people should not turn round an berate the cheats. They need to look a little closer to home.

Instead, design against demand, design work to meet customer purpose and drop all those nasty targets. Euugghhhghg!!!

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