wideThinking: Targets, Results and Delivery
Targets are a good place to start wideThinking.
Conventional Thinking says, “Set targets, measure results, reward according to results, seek economies of scale”. This approach is widely advocated still in the public sector, in education and healthcare and so on. But a lot of evidence shows that this is wrong. We have a number of publications (some from or about John Seddon and the Vanguard Method) which explain the advantages of the wideThink alternatives.
Local Government ~ Policing ~ Education
Targets and the Organisational Psyche
Here, for example, is the conclusion to Simon Guilfoyle's chapter on The Unintended Consequences of Targets in his book Intelligent Policing (which apply to any public service):
"Targets are so ingrained in the organizational psyche that many managers, workers and observers accept them without question. This is precisely why it is so important to challenge targets and the traditional assumptions that are associated with them.
Target-driven performance management is based on an underlying desire to control the workers, along with a basic assumption that they are primarily driven by extrinsic motivators. This disregards the possibility that workers may simply want to do a good job. The targets approach is founded on organizational mistrust, and any short-term ‘results’ it squeezes out of the workers through the traditional blend of rewards, sanctions and fear are only ever achieved at great unseen expense. The long term cost is felt through sub optimization, gaming, and the catastrophic harm that is caused to the system. Target-driven performance management makes service delivery worse and is terminally damaging to worker motivation and morale.
Optimistic ‘safeguards’ and mitigants, such as attempting to carefully design targets or limit their application, are undermined by the fact that it is scientifically impossible to set a numerical target in the first place. This means that, without exception, all numerical targets are completely arbitrary. Furthermore, the paltry single figure adjustments typical of numerical targets (e.g. to reduce crime by 5%) artificially constrain ambition and potential. The only ‘target’ worth striving towards is perfection.
Furthermore, targets always change behaviour, and invariably the behaviour they instigate is unpalatable, counterproductive and damaging to the system.
In summary, I present my position on targets as a simple two-point statement:
1. All numerical targets are arbitrary.
2. No numerical target is immune from causing dysfunctional behaviour.
I therefore submit that targets are the single most pernicious element of conventional management practice and should be abandoned."
Targets in Education
In his bestselling book with the pedestrian title, Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, John Seddon quotes Warwick Mansell on targets in education:
"... the pressure on teachers to deliver the improving test statistics by which the outside world judges them is proving counter-productive.
Schools have been turning increasingly into exam factories ... Intellectual curiosity is stifled. And young people's deeper cultural, moral, sporting, social and spiritual faculties are marginalised by a system in which all must come second to delivering improving test and exam numbers."
There's more on the problems of targets and results in education in the second edition of Transformative Innovation in Education. And here's a nice clip of John Seddon talking about what's wrong with the use of targets as a tool for managing or motivating people, for cutting costs or improving quality: What's Wrong with Targets?