As we approach the last few days of the business year many managers will have turned their attentions to staff appraisals and objective-setting activities for the forthcoming period. One of the most commonly misunderstood concepts held about Lean transformation is the perceived conflict between the Lean approach of ‘merciless measurement’ and a move away from targets and existing target-based appraisal systems. We are often asked how staff objectives can be set without giving people ‘targets’.
This article outlines what is wrong with the traditional way of setting objectives and how the new year’s objectives can be set without undermining an organisational transformation programme.
So what is wrong with the way objectives are set now?
Traditionally, appraisals contain targets. Most of the targets that appear in staff appraisals are at best arbitrary and often set purely because they are simple to measure and therefore make it easy praise or discipline a staff member. At worst they drive the totally wrong behaviours that result in worse customer service.
Here are some examples of targets that we have seen set over the past year and an explanation of why they don’t work.
- Complete 90% of information requests on time within 5 days
- To complete complaints investigations within 10 days.
These targets are arbitrary, why 90%, why 5 or 10 days? Do we care about how long it takes to respond to those people who don’t make it into the 90%?
What this actually means is that by pacing a numerical target for timeliness or population size we are promoting an attitude of ‘get it done’ rather than ‘get it right’ and guaranteeing the disaffection of a percentage of service users.
Work volume targets:
- Submit 12 reports a month
- To see 20 patients a day.
It is unfair to set individual targets where the individual concerned does not have complete control over achieving it; if the service demand is in decline a staff member may fail this target through no fault of their own. These types of targets can demoralise the staff member and potentially create a blame culture in the work place. The alternative is the danger that once the target is achieved the staff member assumes that they have ‘done all their work’, and (as a manager at one client put it) ’ staff take their foot off the gas’.
There are two undesirable situations that can arise from setting appraisal targets, the first is that the staff member simply ‘finds a way’ to achieve the target; this is often by adopting the wrong behaviours and is not client or colleague focused. As one client said ‘they hit the target but missed the point’! The second is that the member of staff behaves in the right way and doesn’t achieve the target, or performs comparably worse than colleagues who have found the best way to ‘hit the target’. This often leads to the individual getting negative feedback that is ultimately demotivating.
So why do we set these objectives?
Quite simply, because they are often easy to measure and evidence, and because it’s what we’ve always done. Often managers will insist that their staff like to have a target to aim for and without them
the service will grind to a halt… In some cases, staff do actually like targets, but again for the wrong reasons, and because it is familiar. Managers and staff simply don’t know how to do it differently.
What’s the alternative
An appraisal should be a fair review of the work completed by that individual, a time to sum up how well an individual has performed – it should never be the first time an individual hears about performance problems. It should be a time for praising positive performance and challenging behaviours that are incorrect or inappropriate.
Rather than setting your staff targets, introduce process-related measures that can be continuously monitored throughout the year, this measurement should include an analysis of how each team member is contributing (or not) to the organisation’s performance. Once you have robust performance measurement in place that informs improvement, the target becomes irrelevant.
It is vital to create an environment where your staff members automatically behave in the right ways and this can be achieved by setting conditions that encourage the behaviours you want. If you have a performance measurement system that asks you to set your staff SMART targets then set process related objectives not task related ones. E.g. Lead one daily meeting a month, attend 3 daily meetings a week.
Introducing a simpler measurement system and freeing managers from target chasing will give managers time to do process confirmation, coaching, staff development, and to confront individual performance issues early on, thus making the appraisal a time of positive feedback and looking forward rather than one of recrimination and reprisal.
Remember: Any performance management or appraisal system needs to measure what adds value for our customers not just how busy we are.