December 11th, 2014

Setting targets can be bad for your health

Be careful what you wish for…

Setting targets can have all sorts of unintended consequences.

Just look at the recent report on doctors. Publishing ‘death rates’ on operations means some doctors avoid operating on really sick people. Just in case they die…. and it affects their figures.

Look at the police. Some forces have massively reduced crime rates by recording crimes as…wait for it… ‘no crimes’.

And look at schools. Set a league table based on achieving Level 4 and you’ll see all the effort going to those who might get Level 4. Don’t worry about the “definitely wills” and “definitely wont’s”

Unintended consequence should be a concern in business too.

Imagine you put me in charge of your company for 6 months and gave me one target.

Improve profit.

Here’s some things I’d do.

Stop training staff
Stop all maintenance and repair
Slash spending on customer service to the minimum
Slash the marketing budget
Stop all new product development
Sack the credit controller

You get the idea. Profit would be sky high. I’d get a big fat bonus.

The next six months might be more of a challenge (I’m not bothered though – I’m off to improve profit somewhere else)

Setting targets is important. Vital even. But you must constantly monitor your targets for unintended consequence.

And be careful what you wish for.

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Business advice


John manages a wide portfolio of owner managed businesses and oversees the smooth operation of the firm’s payroll department.

After obtaining his degree in mathematics from the University of Liverpool, John joined Jonathan Ford & Co in 2004 and qualified as a chartered accountant four years later. John likes to keep abreast of developments in tax and accounting and is responsible for the mentoring of junior staff.

Outside of work, John enjoys keeping fit and is a Liverpool FC season ticket holder.

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