The Madness of Targets

  • The Madness of Targets

    The Madness of Targets

    Missing Deadlines

    You know that feeling when you have missed your targets! You should have completed all the end of year reviews by the end of last month. You are late putting the final touches on the business plan, and a performance improvement plan.  The boss also wants to know the reasons why your numbers were down for the last quarter.

    It seems to be getting harder each time. The last management review removed three of your colleagues and you inherited two extra reports to go with the other six in your team. The performance objectives that had been set for the new guys have been passed on to you together with the outstanding objectives from two of the managers that did not survive the last jobs cull.

    Everyone seems to me to be trying really hard, but according to the latest guidance from HR you need to score three of the team as underperforming. This means that they will miss out on a bonus, and you will have to fill in a detailed performance improvement plan with each of them, which you will also have to monitor on a monthly basis.

    If you fail to do this then the boss will put you on a performance improvement plan! So, you are drowning in paperwork; well maybe a lie, as some of it is paperless. A new online web portal has been introduced to update performance metrics each week.

    Focusing On The Wrong Things

    I am sure that you get the picture! Honestly, spending more time staring at the computer screen updating forms and scorecards than actually trying to be your team’s leaders is a challenge we all face. The story goes on..


    The end of year reviews are all based on the revised competency framework, revised again this year by HR, and also have to link to the business plan targets for the team. Yours are linked to the team and to my boss, and so on.  It’s a maze. How does anyone really understand what it all means?  The online guidance and video blogs don’t help much with explaining what we need to know, you just need someone to talk to in person, but the HR team now operate out of a contact centre 400 miles away.

    The game at the end of the year is to come up with smart words to show how what ended up achieving looks as it fits with the original plan. I am sure that you have become pretty skilled at making things look ok. In truth what actually gets done and what we put into the plans are very different, but as long as the right boxes are filled in and you can come up with a sensible reason why you missed the target you can usually get away with it. What a way to run a business!

    Playing The Game To Achieve Target

    I sometimes wonder whether everyone is up to the same trick? Is the MD also spinning the numbers with the board? He must be! As long as the board is happy then we live to breathe another day.


    As for this year’s business plan, well everyone else seems to be rolling forward last years ideas and adding a bit at the margin on performance targets. You have to do it to survive, but it feels like cloud cuckoo land to me. It feels more and more like a losing streak when betting on the horses. A few colleagues have let all this get to them and it has started to impact their home lives. Causing friction and impacting relationships within a family unit.

    The culture of presenteeism means that people have to be seen to be at work crunching the numbers. You may have colleagues who are off with stress, and you might wonder if some will ever come back.

    Targets And Behaviour

    In the past, I have had to sit down with one of my reports and talk to them about their performance improvement plan for this month. It was a difficult conversation you see because they were very good at the job and brought in great results; in fact they were ahead of target. The problem was that they were ahead on the wrong target! Madness I know!

    Let me explain a bit further – the powers that be had decided that we needed to review ten clients a day, and this was the target that we were measured on.  Well, my colleague has only been hitting around five a day for the last three months, so things are not looking too good for them. The problem was that they has actually converted more reviews into new business than any other member of the team, but the other team members regular hit their target for reviews. How can I explain that one as poor performance?

    The business needed new business to survive, but the target was the number of completed reviews.

    The big bosses did not realize the implications for the business.  Ironically, their bonuses were affected by the outcome of reviews.

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