Return to Cardinal measures

Target setting

  • There are several target options available, including:

  • Reference periods – RPs – what you once did – a performance benchmark achieved in the past, equivalent to an athlete’s PB – average performance over a 4 week historical period say – it lets you assess if you’ve made any progress since
  • Budgets – what you are expected to do and hopefully have agreed to do in the coming year
  • Best practices – BPs – what you could do, even must do, to compete in the next year or two – the best performance levels others, even you, have already proved possible
  • Waypoints – what you must achieve to keep ‘on track’ towards goals
  • Goals – what you aspire to do – ‘long-shots’ – your long term aims, even dreams

Pitfalls to beware:

  •  Quantified goals can cause problems, however:
    • Tell a process line to complete 200 applications per day, or a salesman to take £7,000 worth of orders per week, and all you’ll get are ‘actual’ figures adjusted so that these targets become upper limits, never to be exceeded
    • Tell a hospital A&E department to discharge or admit all patients within three hours of arrival and this can lead to massive cancellations of non-urgent procedures and considerable inconvenience and suffering for other patients
    • Tell a police sex crime unit to improve its detection rate and ‘widespread retractions’ of rape allegations have followed in the past so that fewer crimes are recorded, making targets much easier to reach
  • Quotas can also be negative:
    •  One sees employees standing around for an hour or more at the end of a working day
    • They’ve completed their quotas, they need do no more work
    • They’re waiting for the whistle to blow so they can go home
    • They’re even unhappy doing nothing – they’d rather work and earn more
  • According to Deming: “Targets are often set to accommodate the average worker – naturally, half of them are above average, half below – peer pressure holds the upper half to the target, and no more – the lower half can’t make it so the result is losses and chaos, dissatisfaction and labour turnover”


  • And, if you tell a team to increase its efficiency by x% per annum, albeit without telling them how, this should raise at least two questions:
    • If they can do this next year with no plan, why didn’t they do it last year?
    • If x% is possible with no plan, why not (x+5)% or more?   




In the private sector, budgets are managers’ short term targets, usually for income, expenditure, profitability and output volumes in the coming year Most cover expected resource needs and contingencies for extra capacity – they rarely mention customer satisfaction, employee motivation or corporate knowledge Most public sector budgets cover output volumes (e.g. heathcare episodes, fire incidents …

Best Practices

Overall: They may well not be perfect, and even include much waste, but they demonstrate that better performance levels can and are being achieved, and therefore should attract the question ‘why?’ They let you quantify performance gaps and demonstrate there are better ways of doing things   Internal BPs: Internal BPs provide worthy targets, at …


You may be buffeted by strong and variable headwinds and all sorts of events but reaching predetermined waypoints lets you know whether you’re heading in the right direction and on schedule Waypoints are staging posts en route to your eventual goal – they keep you on the right track Teams should use simple control charts, …


Global competition is now so intense that best practices soon become the norm, so even better is needed, and sooner, if customers are to keep returning to you As Cecil Beaton, the photographer, once said: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the …

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