John A G Smith
12 Aug 2016
What's the target?
We are each set a myriad of targets throughout our lives, by ourselves and by others. How can a leader ensure that the right targets are set to achieve the best from their workers? Learn how to motivate your team and strengthen your techniques but joining one of our Leadership courses.
Leadership by Pedro Ribeiro Simões
I was waiting for the Number 7 bus that would transport me in comfort to the delights of Brighton Marina when I noticed the sign on the side that proudly boasted, “Up to every 7 minutes” and this puzzled me. A quick check on the timetable confirmed my suspicion that, in fact, seven minutes was the shortest time one would have to wait for this hybrid drive, low energy, environmentally friendly behemoth.
Now if someone promised to do a job, say clean your car, you might ask for an estimate of the price.
“Up to seven quid, gov’nor,” he might proclaim so, on that basis, you give him the work.;
How would you feel if, job done, he now held out his mitt for a tenner?
“Ten pound?” you would be justified in exclaiming in alarm. “But you said, ‘Up to a seven pounds’ so how do you get to ten?”
His only defence would be to point at the buses and respond,
“Well, that’s what they do.”
But I don’t think it would hold water.
Really, the bus company should repaint the signs on the buses to say, “Down to every 7 minutes” or “At best every 7 minutes.”
Can we believe the numbers?
All this got me thinking of other numbers that are used to lie to us. I saw a sign that said a certain antiseptic wipe would “kill up to 100% more bacteria” than a competitor’s product. So what percentage more bacteria would it need to kill in order to justify this claim? Actually, any number above the competitor’s. If it killed just 0.0000000001% more, then it has met its promise. The only way it would break its promise would be if it killed the same (or less) than its competitor or, perversely, killed more than twice as many … because it only said “up to” not “more than”.
And it gets worse. Try this one: a media company claims its broadband is “Up to 2 times faster” when it actually means ‘up to twice as fast.’ Now if they said “The same speed” it would be obvious what they meant. “1 times faster” would actually mean twice as fast, so “2 times faster” must mean “three times the speed”. But again, 0.0000000001% faster is still ‘up to’ and therefore in line with the advertised claims.
And worse still. A certain beauty product promises to make your eyelashes, “twice as luscious.” Can anybody tell me the British Standard measurement of lusciousness? Because I’ve looked and I can’t find one. So how can such a claim be justified … or proved?
There’s an old adage used in management:
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
For example, you can’t expect workers to work twice as hard unless you can measure ‘hardworking’ and set a target of so many Standard Work Units per employee.
Do targets work?
We who work in IT Service Management and follow the tenets of ITIL will know all about targets, but setting them can lead to all sorts of silliness and there are several consequences if they are not thought through because:
Things for which targets are set, are seen to be important and therefore.......
Things for which targets are NOT set, are seen to be unimportant so.......
Things for which targets are set, tend to get done and therefore......
Things for which targets are NOT set, tend to be ignored......
And there are consequences … usually unexpected. Here are some real examples of ill thought out targets and their consequences:
Target by Erika
A company classified its products into ‘Category A’, ‘B’, etc. and then awarded monthly bonuses to the salesperson who sold the most in each category. After an initial flurry of activity management noticed that nobody was selling one of the categories. After a while all sales ceased on a second category and so on. When they asked the sales force for an explanation the response was, “Well, Fred has got so far ahead in ‘Category A’ that it’s all sewn up. There’s no point in wasting time trying to catch him so we’re putting all our efforts into selling the others.” Fred, of course, was also not bothering to sell Category A because he’d already won that one so he was chasing another. Then Category B got sorted and so on. Near the end of the month nobody was apparently selling anything as they were saving up all potential sales for next month when the flurry would start again.
A call centre set a target that 97% of all calls must be answered within five rings. They later discovered that some callers were hanging on for more than an hour without being answered. The reason? Once a call had exceeded the ‘five rings’ limit then it was already counted as a ‘fail’ so it was better to ignore it and put the effort into answering those that hadn’t.
A newly elected police commissioner decreed that police officers must solve so many crimes a month. Now, when two men have a fight outside a pub it is classified as two assaults – each man on the other – rather than as a single offence.
Hospital administrators set targets for operations. Previously, when a patient needed both hips replaced the surgeon would do both at one time and the patient would be in and out within a day or two. Under the new regime they had to replace one hip, send the patient home and then make an appointment for the second operation: doubling the patient hospital time, increasing costs by 70% and putting the patient through the dangers of a general anaesthetic twice.
This is my favourite.
A company was ordered by the parent company to make drastic cost savings so they sacked 16 workers … all of whom were on minimum wage. They then had to pay them redundancy money, which was greater than the amount of wages saved that year. And even without that extra cost, the savings failed to meet the required target.
Because many of the sacked workers did jobs such as cleaning, the company then had to employ contractors – which cost even more than the dismissed people. And every single one of their (underemployed) senior managers earned more, individually, than all 16 the redundant workers did between them.
Before you are tempted to set a target ask yourself these questions:
·Is it important enough to need controlling?
·Can it be measured against some objective criterion?
·Is there some way of fiddling the figures to make it appear as if we’re hitting a target even if we’re not?
·What may NOT be done because it is now seen as being unimportant?
What are the possible ‘unintended consequences’? Good luck on that one!
Have you been set any silly targets? Or seen the unintended consequences of them? Share them with us.