Why targets are good

Targets are good. They work.

Comparing this quarters performance with last quarters, is good. It works

Benchmarking performance against a group of other organisations, is good. That works too.


Calm down! Let’s go back a bit….

Q: What’s the first question to ask of any system?

A: “What is the purpose of this system?”

You can’t know if an activity makes sense unless you know what it is supposed to do in the context of the system it is in. Until you know it’s purpose, you’ll never know if a part is doing the right thing.

So, what’s the purpose of a performance management system?
Not the usual rubbish answer either, the real answer. The POSIWID answer.

Look closely at how people act with performance information and you will see that the purpose of a performance management system is to provide one of two words….


When a performance report is in the executive boardroom, the question being asked ALWAYS requires a yes/no answer.

Questions such as…

  • Have you hit your target?
  • Are we better than this time last quarter?
  • Are we good compared with others?

To get these questions answered you simply compare…

  • an actual performance against a target GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • this quarters with last quarters GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • yourself against others in a ranked list GIVES you a yes or a no.

In a command and control organisation the method of management is management by objectives. People, especially senior managers, are held responsible for delivering certain numerical objectives. That’s the command bit. The control bit is measuring whether they have or not through corporate performance management. The yes/no is provided quarterly at a big table in an even bigger report stuffed full of yes/no’s.

Targets, benchmarking and other binary comparisons are characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose.

It is just not the purpose you might assume it to be.

This is why it NEVER works to try and improve poor performance measures without improving the thinking that created them.

A common error is to go in at the level of the tool, to show why targets dont work but control charts do. There is a reason why they were using targets in the first place. You cannot assume that people have what you consider “poor measures” because they aren’t good at maths or because they haven’t read the right books.

Instead go in at the level of the thinking. Ask them what questions specifically they are trying to answer. Ask what specific problems they are trying to solve. There is a reason why people do everything they do. It makes sense to them, it needn’t make sense to you.

The purpose of this whole blog is about changing management thinking. If you don’t change management thinking, you’re not doing much at all. In the case of performance measures if you don’t address the thinking…

  • show someone a control chart, they will ask where the target is.
  • come up with a measure of customer purpose, they will ask how they can benchmark it.
  • if you put measures in the hands of people doing the work, someone will want it reported to a boardroom far away.

These are 5  characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provide a yes/no answer…

The Wrong Measure

    1. Do they relate to targets, standards and other arbitrary benchmarks?

    2. Do they measure functional performance and activity not attainment of purpose

Shown The Wrong Way

   3. Are they expressed as static data points, averages , percentages, RAG etc??

Used in the wrong place by the wrong people

  4. Are they primarily used for reporting to the boardroom?

  5. Are they used as a carrot or a stick, not a tool for learning and improvement??


These are characteristics to aspire to in a command and control organisation. That is why to go in at the level of the performance measure trying to improve that, is a waste of time. The following are characteritics of good performance measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provoke a question, not provide an answer..

The Right Measure

    1. Does it measure purpose and what matters to the customer as defined by the customer?

Shown The Right Way

   2. Does it demonstrate predictable capability (to meet purpose & what matters) and variation over time?

   3. Is it used to connect actions with consequences so learning can take place

Used in the right place by the right people

  4. Is it used by people doing the work it measures, in the work being measured, to understand and improve the work?

  5. Does it lead people to learn and improve against purpose?


NB All this stuff is Vanguard content, all I do is copy and paste. But I do it beautifully.

Posted in data, systems thinking, targets, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Lesson learned


This is a fellow onion.
Look how sad she is.

We’d just finished, or rather abandoned, a project, so decided to do a lessons learned exercise.

These are specific lessons we learnt during the work and what we wrote on our flip charts….

1: A meeting room of people agreeing something is like a class room agreeing. Nobodies learnt, they’ve just nodded that they’ve agreed not to disagree.

2:  Policies don’t work. Nobody knows they exist, and if they do, they don’t know what’s in them, and if they do, they rightly don’t care.

3: Regular official meetings are worse than ineffective, they suck life from your bones, if you want to communicate with someone don’t “have a meeting”, just meet someone.

4: Use a hand drawn picture, it’s better than a description of something that could exist as it actually does. You can point at it and talk about something concrete rather than guess the contents of each others heads.

We actually learnt that. So why the glum face?
We thought that this, and other lessons would be useful for colleagues.
We tried to get others involved, told them what we’d learnt. Nobody was interested, or even agreed.
We soon realised it is pointless as it was us who had learned, so telling someone else is pointless. That is the actual lesson learned, only you can learn a lesson. Anyone else is just told it.

Lesson learned.

Posted in knowledge, learning, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Abhishek’s mam


This piece of paper was shoved at me by my 10 year old when I came home from work.

“Can we have Indian food tonight! Abhishek’s mam is selling home made Indian food see, give it a ring “

Abhishek is his school friend, I’m now guessing that his mum must have just handed this sheet out at school.

Look at it. No title, no name just a mobile number, not laid out right. It doesn’t have any times, or instructions about how long in advance to order.
It’s brilliant.

It’s brilliant because it exists.
It’s the very first thing done, not the last, so it is the worst it will be right now, and it can only get better.
If it didn’t exist it couldn’t get better, it does so it will.

This is why Abhishek’s mam is better than every single improvement effort or project I’ve seen in the council.

There is no sign of a project plan.
No theme board.
Not a whisper of a triangle.
Instead she has skin in the game.

No AS-IS and no TO-BE.
Instead she will learn what works by experimenting and finding out.

This is so exciting, despite it being nothing to do with me, because it is real.
I find nothing exciting in any of my organisations efforts because they are not real.

This is why my organisation should be more like Abhishek’s mam.

Posted in experiment, knowledge, learning, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

I’d love a body like yours

I go to a bootcamp, pressups out doors in the mud, sprinting uphill carrying sandbags. That sort of thing.


Illustration for illustration purposes

I was looking at the Facebook page of someone who also goes, there was a recent photo of her on there and I saw a friend of hers had left a comment beneath it …

“eeeh, I wish I had a body like yours”

I was bored so I clicked on the Facebook profile of this person.

The first 3 photos were of this person holding drinks in different places, bars, clubs, living rooms. One was of her holding a whole pizza outside a kebab shop.

I realised that she doesn’t “want a body like yours”.
She might think she does, but that’s not what she really wants.
What she actually wants is someone to magically come along and just give her a body like that. With magic, not hard work.


A person with a body like this lady lives her life DOING THE THINGS THAT RESULTS in that body. The sort of person with a body like that is the sort of person who does particular things that result in it.

Same as people say “I want to be a millionaire“, they really would just like someone to give them a million pounds not to actually be the sort of person who becomes a millionaire. Try this in the next person who claims they’d love to be a millionaire….

“So you want to start your own business, numerous times because you’re going to go bankrupt more than once. Oh, and lose your house probably. But those 7 day working weeks and 18 hour days will fly by, especially since you won’t be able to take a holiday. Well done you! “

That is the sort of thing a person has to do to be the sort of person who is a millionaire.
Not many people wish for that.

Whether in the workplace or the gym, this here holds true …


The gym rules are really easy, if your want a body like hers…


The hard thing is where they aren’t handily written down on a wall like that. Like at work.

If you’re like me, you want to work in a place full of purpose, where every day you can help people with their problems. And you probably don’t.

It’s pointless wishing that you work in a place like that, there are only two options open to you. Pick one ….


One choice, 2 options

I’m choosing the first option, definitely.

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I’m not at my desk right now









Posted in leadership, learning, systems thinking | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Low hanging fruit? Don’t waste your time


This is an extended metaphor about fruit. You have been warned.


Managers love low hanging fruit.
Improvements that are the easiest and quickest to carry out, surely only an idiot wouldn’t go for them.
Well that must mean I’m an idiot.

Yesterday I went blackberry picking and learnt that the WORST fruit to go for are the low hanging sort. Here’s why…


Some high hanging fruit, yesterday

1: Low hanging fruit won’t be there.
You go to the blackberry bush, and there’s no blackberries. Why? Because somebody has beaten you to it. They’re always somebody who beats you to it, these things don’t hang around. forever. It might have been YOU who beat you to it, the very first time you went for the low hanging fruit. You can only go once and then there aren’t any.
Lesson: most of the time you want to improve something, the easy stuff will already have been done. It’s always the hard stuff that’s left over.

2: The juiciest best fruit is the hardest to reach.
See those berries, right the back. Just to the left of the leaf. No, not THAT leaf. The other one. See how juicy they are? Is because they’re not the easy low hanging sort, these are plump ripe and ready to pluck and nobody has because they’re hard to get to. A bit of effort is required.
Lesson:The easy small stuff will be gone, so that only leaves the hard GOOD STUFF. Not only that but…

3: It hurts at first, then it doesn’t
The berries at the back are surrounded by thorns and nettles. You’ll get stung, and at first it’ll hurt but eventually you’ll get used to it as the price you pay and you won’t notice the stings only the berries.
Lesson: The first time you start to do the hard things it’ll hurt, too hard! You’ll cry. After that it becomes normal.

4: One you start you can’t stop
Pick one berry, there’s another one right next to it. Why stop when there’s always another one within finger reach.
Lesson: Improvement is continuous because otherwise it’s not. There’s no such thing as complacent improvement. Once all the low hanging stuff had gone and you’re into the hard stuff that’s you started, so don’t stop.

5: You pick a thousand berries one berry at a time.


One thousand berries, yesterday.

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I want to be a Dual Action Dad


THIS is an advert by Persil for a product of theirs called “dual action”. The person in the shower is doing two things at once, showering and cleaning the shower, this is the point of their marketing. Why do one thing, when you can do two.

That’s the last bit of publicity I’m going to give to their wretched product.

Instead. LOOK CLOSER at the person in that advert. Looks quite female eh? Nothing unusual, half of us are female and the other half aren’t.


CaptureYou know you’re a Dual Action MUM? Shurely shome mishtake?

Let’s see their website has to say about this….


Ignore the AMAZING skill needed to online shop and bake a cake.


What is this, the 1950s? No it is 2014 and I thought the lazy stereotyping of women as housewives stopped around about the same time we recognised that Jews aren’t grasping misers and black people aren’t grinning idiots.

Persil didn’t get the email, apparently.

This matters because it is a huge multinational plastering this message that normal is mums dual acting, normal is mums cleaning showers, normal is mums baking cakes, normal is mums online shopping.

But it isn’t, the reason why this caught my eye is that the previous day I, a dad, had spent the morning cleaning the bathroom, starting with the shower whilst I showered myself.



Yes, I am a Dual Action DAD. At least on this occasion anyway, and the Persil ad by stating what is and what is not normal has showed me for one tiny moment what I am guessing it might be like FOR WOMEN’S ENTIRE LIVES. And I found it annoying.

Being told a complete pack of lies about normality and what is right for a mum or dad to to, by a company that can plaster its lies everywhere, that’s annoying.

Having to live an entire life dictated by that, I’m imagining is worse.
So that’s my systems thnking lesson for today. I don’t have a clue about what it’s like to stereotyped as I’m the default standard for people, I’m English, white, male, straight and able-bodied. The one time I have been stereotyped in a tiny way, I loathe it.

So if you don’t want Unilever to tell you who you are and what normal behaviour is, go here and tell them exactly what your dual action is. In my case it is this…


You however could tell them to sit on it AND swivel. Up to you.

Posted in systems thinking | Tagged | 2 Comments