We’ve got a big problem with targets. They’ve become all muddled up. We use one word to describe different things, and lose sight of the differences. Never mind confusing apples and oranges, we’ve got old boots in the mix too.
I’m particularly concerned about two distinct meanings:
Targets: externally imposed standards of performance. Pass/fail. Failure to meet them brings sanctions – metaphorical knee-capping, withdrawal of funding, withdrawal of your licence to operate.
Targets: internally developed challenges, used to create ambition in an organisation, to stretch the organisation’s capabilities. If you succeed in meeting them all, they were set too low, they didn’t stretch you enough.
It’s easy to get these two mixed up, but it’s very dangerous to do. Treating external targets like internal ones causes us to sail too close to the wind. We don’t build a safety margin into our performance, which leads us to panic and desperate measures. Treating internal targets like external ones causes us to build sanctions into our operations where they don’t belong, or to make things too easy for ourselves, to lose ambition.
It’s time to make a clear separation between the two. Labelling them clearly will make it much easier to behave appropriately towards each one. I tried for a long time to persuade people to think of something else to call the externally imposed numbers, but it wasn’t to be. So it’s time to make the change where we can, inside the organisation. Banish internal targets. Instead, flaunt your stretch marks!