I almost called this blog post ‘Spot the Difference 2′ because it follows on from this old post. The reason for revisiting the arguments in that blog is because since the advent of our little friend Stick Child, the need to simplify some performance management arguments to a level even the Under-10s can grasp remains ever-present.
Okay, so flippancy aside (for now), you’ve recognised that the banana, giraffe and cartoon bomb are three different things. Are you as confident that you could differentiate between ‘priorities’, ‘measures’ and ‘numerical targets’ though? I only ask because these are also three different things, yet are still routinely conflated with each other; this leads to mental stumbling blocks for those trying to move beyond the targets culture in management.
So, to break it down…
Priorities are the things considered important. They are what the organisation places value upon. They reflect the aim (or an aim) of the system. They focus attention, direction, effort and activity.Â Having no priorities is bad, because it means the system is directionless.
But they’re NOT numerical targets!
Measures are just the bits of quantitative and qualitative information that we use to establish whether we are attaining priorities. Measures are really important, because if we use the right measures in the right way, we can understand what is happening within the system and identify opportunities to improve. The data from the measures helpÂ us make better decisions. Better decisions lead to better outcomes. Having no measures is bad, because without them, we can’t understand how the system is performing.
Numerical Targets are the random aspirational numbers that human beings invent in their heads because they think they need them to make people do a good job. Target setters aren’t necessarily bad people, but they forget some important points, like these:
But they’re NOT priorities or measures!
Therefore, I argue that if you’re clear about your priorities and use appropriate measures, you’ve got what you need. The numerical targets simply don’t need to be there at all. They’re irrelevant and often make performance worse. So why have them?
Here’s an example. It should be easy to see that the priorities, measures and numerical targets in this table are three different things. Now, just imagine that the numerical targets aren’t there. What you’re left with is the useful stuff – priorities and measures.