Memorandum by Sir Michael Bichard, Rector,
The London Institute (PST 09)
Targets are an important way of focusing energy
and effort. Without them the commitment to service excellence
which the public sector has in abundance could be wasted as individuals
reach their own different conclusions about priorities and service
But targets are so powerful that they can as
easily do damage as deliver benefits. There is no formula which
guarantees success but experience offers some lessons. Targets:
Need to be set by people who have
experience of operational delivery and who have a sensitivity
to what is realistic.
Should be small in number if they
are genuinely to focus attention on the priorities. As Chief Executive
of the Benefits Agency I had 150 targets.
Should be (largely) outcome based
and certainly not process dominated.
Should wherever possible be measurable
(so preferably quantified).
Should be expressed in terms of client
Should be stretching but achievable.
Unrealistic targets do not raise performancethey simply
Should be regularly reviewedtargets
can distort behaviour and can in time be manipulatedneed
to be frequently refreshed.
Should be regularly policed/audited
given the temptation to "fiddle" targets for pay-bonus
Should cover all levels of deliverynational
targets will mean little to local delivery units unless they know
what their contribution needs to be.
Should leave scope for creativityshould
not be so detailed as to dictate how things should be done.
Should sometimes be about the distance
travelled in performance terms rather than about absolute performance
Need to be owned by staffconsultation
Need to be influenced by clients
and the wider communityconsultation again important.
Need to reflect prioritiesnot
fudge difficult decisions about prioritieseg is the priority
speed of benefit payments or accuracy.
Performance against targets should
be rigorously monitoredwhich requires reliable management
data capable of independent audit.
Targets cannot tell the whole story
but they can give some important clues.
Media response to performance make
explicit targets increasingly unattractive.
There are advantages and disadvantages. Tables
to encourage bench marking and a sense of competition both of
which are important for any business public or private. They also
enable client/consumers/citizens to ask questions about relative
performance which providers ought to be robust enough to answer.
On the other hand it is difficult for them to take account of
external factors (eg the particular local social pressures) and
they do not effectively measure the distance travelled by a delivery
unit. It is too easy for those delivering in areas which do not
suffer deprivation to appear regularly at the top of tables without
stretching themselves. So tables can be demoralising for some
and encourage complacency in others. Tables obviously need to
measure the things that matter if they are to be of any use and
they can only be as good as the data on which they are based.
Having said that they have a part to play in enhancing accountability
in a still largely monopolistic situation although the more they
can measure, in education especially, value added the better they