Measurement and Targets

Measure an aspect of a system and you will change it. For example, I once included a graph of number of people late for a regular meeting; the tardy individuals soon began to arrive on time and the measure ‘improved’. So measurement is a great management tool.

Set a target on that measure and you (possibly aim to) fundamentally change the system. The target becomes a part of the system.

If the system is one involving human values and relationships, it is likely to be thus dehumanized. It is quite apparent that immigration/removal targets set at the UK Home Office led directly to the inhuman practices that feature in the current ongoing ‘Windrush’ scandal.

The interesting thing about targets is that, if the target is the main way of measurement of staff (or of a separate subcontractor), then they are effectively being pushed into behaving in a value-free and inhumane way – and, when this is discovered, the management can hold up their hands, say ‘not me gov’, and blame the lower level operatives (or subcontractor) whose jobs depended on meeting the targets.

This is the dirty secret of much high level management, and of course politicians. Management by numbers alone is, at the end of the day, not management at all, but abdication of responsibility.

A target is a good servant, but a poor master.

Of course, profit and other financial numbers are measures, and our current capitalism depends on using them. Use them as the main incentive for senior management, and what do you get? Enron, banking crises, bribery, corruption, all sorts of value-free behaviour…

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