Meet your targets… or become one!

I listened to a programme last night on Radio 4 (it’s already been mentioned how sad my life is, thanks very much) called Analysis. www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/analysis for those of you who are interested.

It was about targets and the arguments for and against them, using the NHS as an example.

Of course, there was one guy arguing that all targets should be scrapped and replaced with something else and another whose life was dedicated to targets and the stats you can get from measuring things.

So, who was correct and what are the implications for Enterprise Britain?

For me, targets are a good thing, generally speaking. It’s what gets targeted and how they are measured where things go wrong.

One of the contributors last night used this example to illustrate the point:

Most businesses want to be known for high quality service to their customers. One of the indicators (and that’s an important word in the context of this blog) of high quality service is the telephone being answered within three rings… along with many other things.

So, the natural thing would be to target answering the ‘phone – to make sure it gets answered within the now statutory three rings.

The argument is, though, that by introducing a target a business almost guarantees that service levels will fall as staff responsible for getting the ‘phone answered begin to look for more and more creative ways to hide the true figures by, for example, switching the ‘phones off for a period of time.

This, in some areas, is what happened in the NHS with some acute patients being prioritised after less acute patients so that waiting targets could be met.

What’s to do, then, in EB other than now adding an extra target which says that the ‘phones have to switched on all day?

To be honest, it’s not easy. Getting the right targets and measures in place and then knowing which indicators to watch takes time and effort. The place to start, though, is to work out what your OUTPUTS are.

Take the telephone example above. The output in this situation is the level of service experienced by customers and how they feel about it. That’s what has to be targeted. Having the ‘phone answered within three rings is an input. It has to be measured because if the ‘phone is being answered quickly a customer’s perception of the service will be higher than if it takes ages to pick it up.

So, target the outputs and measure the inputs that make up quality service. Then you can work on the measurements to improve the target.

With me so far? Good – I told you it was a complicated area. I would be really interested in your comments on this one as it’s such a huge area – so do let me know what you think.

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