A Better Way

One day during the school holidays, Stick Child’s daddy took him to an outdoor adventure park, where people climb through the trees using various ropes, nets, rickety bridges, zip wires and other things. Stick Child’s daddy thought he’d be pretty good at it, as he’d been on similar obstacle courses when he was much younger…

Stick child better way 1

It soon became apparent, however, that he was a lot slower than his boy, moving with all the grace and finesse of a large land mammal, tangling himself up in his safety ropes and wobbling precariously as he crossed from one platform to the next. Also, the higher they went, the wobblier he became, hugging the tree trunks desperately and avoiding eye contact with the ground.

Stick child better way 2

Stick Child thought this was quite funny and was tempted to laugh at his daddy, who had been acting all big and tough when they were on the ground. Instead, he decided to help him, as he had learnt some good techniques for tackling these sorts of obstacles on a recent school trip.

At first, Stick Child’s daddy still thought he knew best (“I’ve been doing it this way for years, son”), but Stick Child showed him some simple techniques that enabled him to traverse the obstacles a lot more quickly and surefootedly. Some of the techniques were a bit counter-intuitive to Stick Child’s daddy and he was quite nervous at times, as his natural reaction was to grab onto obstacles when Stick Child told him that going across ‘hands free’ would give him better balance and speed.

It was scary at first, but Stick Child’s daddy trusted his son, and found the alternative approaches worked much better. Father and son had a great afternoon and the elder of the two learnt a lot as well.

Stick child better way zip

So, this happy tale is likely to have a badly-hidden moral or two, isn’t it?

1. If you’ve been using targets, league tables and binary comparisons to manage performance, then it’s natural to want to keep doing what you’ve always done (or what others do) – it’s also natural to be nervous about alternative approaches, because that means you’re going to have to jump off the platform and fly down that zip wire. Just do it!

2. If you’re one of those people who already knows about Stick Child’s techniques, then its better to share the knowledge with those ungainly (but probably well-intentioned) folk who struggle to move deftly through the trees, rather than just point and laugh at them. They might react with denial, annoyance, embarrassment or even jealousy at first, but hopefully they’ll eventually see for themselves that there’s a better way of achieving the things they’ve always been trying to achieve.

Stick child better way 3

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If you use this…

“Total recorded crime this month (2,325 offences) shows an increase of 64 offences compared to last month (+2.8%), and an increase of 97 offences compared to the same period last year (+4.4%). The year-to-date figure is 113 offences higher than the previous year’s year-to-date figure (+1.3%), equating to an average of +0.9 additional offences per day. Performance is currently missing the reduction target of -5% by 6.3%. This area is currently ranked 5th of 6 in the league table”.

You might as well use this…

“Total galloobious this pobble (2,325 Quangle-Wangles) shows an increase of Ring-Bo-Ree compared to the last clangle-wangle, and an increase of 97 Tropical Turnspits compared to shuttledore (+4.4 plum puddings). The Torrible Zone is 113 mumbians higher than the previous Gromboolian, equating to an average of +0.9 runcible spoons per Tiggory-tree. Performance is currently missing the Chankly-Bore target by 6.3%. This Gramblamble is currently ranked Willeby-Wat in the bikky wikky tikky mee”.

(With apologies to Edward Lear).

Lear edit

Confused? Try these…

Why Binary Comparisons are Really Silly

Weak Excuses for Using Binary Comparisons

How to Spoil a Perfectly Good Car

Why ‘Year-to-Date’ is Rubbish






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Face the Facts

We like actual evidence, don’t we?

Binary comparison evidence

Then don’t be like the guy on the right!

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Three Different Things

Three different things

I almost called this blog post ‘Spot the Difference 2′ because it follows on from this old post. The reason for revisiting the arguments in that blog is because since the advent of our little friend Stick Child, the need to simplify some performance management arguments to a level even the Under-10s can grasp remains ever-present.

Okay, so flippancy aside (for now), you’ve recognised that the banana, giraffe and cartoon bomb are three different things. Are you as confident that you could differentiate between ‘priorities’, ‘measures’ and ‘numerical targets’ though? I only ask because these are also three different things, yet are still routinely conflated with each other; this leads to mental stumbling blocks for those trying to move beyond the targets culture in management.

So, to break it down…

Priorities are the things considered important. They are what the organisation places value upon. They reflect the aim (or an aim) of the system. They focus attention, direction, effort and activity. Having no priorities is bad, because it means the system is directionless.

But they’re NOT numerical targets!

Measures are just the bits of quantitative and qualitative information that we use to establish whether we are attaining priorities. Measures are really important, because if we use the right measures in the right way, we can understand what is happening within the system and identify opportunities to improve. The data from the measures help us make better decisions. Better decisions lead to better outcomes. Having no measures is bad, because without them, we can’t understand how the system is performing.

But they’re NOT numerical targets!

Numerical Targets are the random aspirational numbers that human beings invent in their heads because they think they need them to make people do a good job. Target setters aren’t necessarily bad people, but they forget some important points, like these:

  • Numerical targets are arbitrary.
  • Numerical targets do not provide a method or capacity for achieving priorities.
  • No numerical target is immune from causing dysfunctional behaviour.

But they’re NOT priorities or measures!

Therefore, I argue that if you’re clear about your priorities and use appropriate measures, you’ve got what you need. The numerical targets simply don’t need to be there at all. They’re irrelevant and often make performance worse. So why have them?

Here’s an example. It should be easy to see that the priorities, measures and numerical targets in this table are three different things. Now, just imagine that the numerical targets aren’t there. What you’re left with is the useful stuff – priorities and measures.

But they’re NOT numerical targets!

Priorities Measures Targets table

Stick Child Three different things


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Remember all that recent Incontrovertible Evidence suggesting targets cause dysfunctional behaviour in policing? (Yes, I can feel your shock and surprise).

Well, the warnings that the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) issued were akin to your local friendly gas engineer putting one of these on a dodgy appliance…

gas warning notice

Yes, that means potential danger has been identified and you have been warned not to use the appliance because highly predictable adverse consequences are likely to ensue.

The PASC report is the targets equivalent of that gas engineer putting a prohibition notice on your dodgy appliance and warning you in the strongest possible terms:


It doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?

So, don’t be like this genius…

Do Not Use - conversation


If you ignore the notice, guess what’s going to happen?

Do Not Use - Boom


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Why Binary Comparisons are Really Silly

Imagine having a rich resource of useful information at your fingertips, but then deliberately ignoring most of it for no logical reason whatsoever…

Binary conversation

No, I don’t understand either.

Poster: Binary conversation

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Weak Excuses for Using Binary Comparisons

Due to the popularity of my last ‘poster’ blog, here’s another…

Weak excuses for using binary comparisons

You can download a pdf of the poster here: Weak excuses for using binary comparisons.

Enjoy ;-)

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