Strategy

9th May 2021

Don’t set targets

As the business leader you may well be target driven and understand the need for the business to hit certain performance figures.

It is important, I believe, to have a scoreboard, or a series of scoreboards, in the business. Rockefeller habit 9 says “All employees can answer quantitatively whether they had a good day or week”. This is critical. You wouldn’t expect any sports team to operate well without a current and accurate scoreboard, and yet we often ask our teams to play the great game of business which is many times more complex than the most complicated sport without an effective scoreboard.

So it makes sense to set targets and KPI’s, yes? Well not necessarily.

I find ‘target’ can be a threatening concept to lots of people. Particularly when they are first introduced. Targets tend to be imposed from above and often carry job threatening implications, which might have the opposite effect to the one you are aiming for. So how do you square that particular circle?

One answer is : gently, and over time. There is a difference between measurability and a target. Why not let people measure the important metrics first, well before you start applying any kind of judgement to the measurements? Let the team measure themselves. Human nature will generally result in the team or individual wanting to better last week’s numbers. I bet there are very few men reading this who didn’t have a competition with their mates to see who could pee highest against the bike sheds when they were a kid. That’s just the way we are wired.

People will naturally try to perform at a higher level today than they did yesterday. As they do they take ownership of the number and they will try to devise ways to increase that number. When they do, as a leader, your job is to help them do just that.

At that point, they own the number, not you. It is a measure, their measure, and the motivation to improve is intrinsic. In other words it comes from within. Intrinsic motivation will always trump extrinsic motivation or coercion.

Scoreboards and metrics are essential, but they are useless without ownership, which as leaders we often sabotage.

There are lots of challenges in the world but a business that is run well can benefit the world more than almost anything else, creating purpose, dignity, and wealth in honest and worthwhile work, but it is a competitive place in which to thrive. If you would like an edge and to significantly improve your business performance and expand your thinking please reach out.

ian@kinnery.co.uk

Doing good by doing well.