Setting management targets to avoid bad results

In my previous blog I responded to an article defending the unfortunate need for management targets. Having done so, I feel compelled to have a go at some brief thoughts on how to set good ones rather than those that lead to the disaster that we have seen recently so carefully set out in the Francis Report.

Management targets come in two varieties, inward looking ones such as financial or budget targets, and outward looking ones such as service waiting times. In other words some are used to manage the allocation of resources and others are used to test the quality of service provided.

 So here is my list of five Dos and Don’ts in setting up management targets.

  1. it is essential to be managing to both inward and outward looking targets. Running a public service only looking at the cost numbers is going to go badly.
  2. Service user feedback needs to gained from as many different sources as possible and checked against outward looking targets to test, are they telling us the same thing? If not, what should we change in what we measure to better capture what our service users are telling us? Effective measures provide clear information on how ones organisation is performing, poor ones get you to focus on things less important to those you are serving.
  3. Try to avoid revolutions. In other words bring in change incrementally, explaining where it is going and moving towards it over time.
  4. Avoid targets that are black or white, rather than incremental. Where there are significant consequences for a small shift in one number or action, the potential for gaming and perverse incentives becomes particularly acute.
  5. Implement reasonable data systems so that the pain of gathering the data does not get in the way of the day job.

I would welcome thoughts from others who have more experience in implementing these things than I do.

 Next up … Payment by Results

I wrote on this to a different Guardian article comparing Payment by Results and performance related pay by Zoe Williams. I have reproduced it in my next blog. I have thoughts swimming around my head about the Dos and Don’ts of implementing PbR, so will have a go at that in a few days.

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About tobyeccles123

I'm the founder and Development Director of Social Finance, a social change organisation based in London. I led the development of the Social Impact Bond and focus on enabling the emergence of a functioning social economy. I'm married with two small and very lovely daughters.

One thought on “Setting management targets to avoid bad results

  1. Best advice for anyone who might be considering setting any numerical targets is to stick to the first two words of your fourth point – ‘Avoid targets’. 😉

    On a serious note, all numerical targets are arbitrary and none is immune from causing dysfunctional behaviours.

    I agree with your points on the importance of measures, but measures are entirely a different entity to targets.

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