Targets in public services do more harm than good

Targets for the management of businesses, including public services, do more harm than good. Target setting is based on a command and control mindset which assumes that the job of managers is to find a way to “get the workers to do the work”. The Civil Service has taught managers that our job is to manage people and manage budgets; and that we should drive performance through the organisation by setting targets, monitoring activity and appraising performance. This isn’t right. Our job is to understand what our customers want from us; and then to design systems and ensure that we have the capability to deliver. Targets do not motivate people: they get in the way. We need to move away from bosses in a management factory doing the thinking while the workers do the work. Read the full article here

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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3 Comments

  1. Bravo! Down with targets. Ditto with Performance Indicators, Personal Objectives, Bonuses, Achievement Ratings, and all the rest of that tired old discredited stuff, indiscriminately lifted from private sector managementspeak that went out of fashion a decade or two ago. Power to your pen.

    BLB, 10 May 04

  2. Hang on a second. Don’t targets provide focus and ambition? Shouldn’t those of us who aspire to better public services for all our citizens have something to aim at, especially when you can’t rely on the market to get an optimal allocation?

  3. Nigel – do you have any evidence for the idea that targets provide focus and ambition? I’ve never met anyone in the public service who admits to being motivated by targets.

    Owen

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