Choose operational targets wisely

I ran a workshop this week with a really great team at one of my clients and the topic of targets came up for discussion.

Targets had been introduced to this organisation fairly recently and the team had a very interesting discussion around how this impacted them. The role of the team was varied and involved working with other teams & suppliers. They also had their own processing targets to meet.

What happened on Friday morning when they hadn’t yet met their weekly targets? Focus on the target to the exclusion of all other work of course.  Logic might dictate that they should focus on the work that would add most value in the long term however when faced with a missed target then short term wins over the long term.

We can see this playing out in the recent controversy over immigrant removal targets at the UK Home Office. While at a policy level you might not wish to have targets for removal of illegal immigrants as this could introduce bias in decision making, at an operational level teams have targets set to ensure that they are working productively. Where work is outsourced this is further reinforced by contracts and service level agreements.

The natural incentive for a team and their immediate managers will be to focus on meeting targets they have been set. That is often how success is measured.

Bhudda said “We become what we pay attention to “ and if success equals hitting targets then it is entirely reasonable for teams to become proficient at hitting them irrespective of the wider organisational strategySo chose your operational targets wisely as they can lead to unintended consequences.

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