How To Quit

Okay, so you’ve seen the light and realised that numerical targets are bad for you and those around you. You want to give them up, but you’ve been using them for years. How do you overcome the cravings that you are likely to experience? Well, you might want to explore the options in this ‘official advice’ from the made-up body, the Department of Healthiness.*

DoH* Not to be confused with the actual Department of Health. (Guys, it’s just a bit of light-heartedness. Please don’t sue me).

‘Official Advice’

comfort blanket1. Now, the first thing to appreciate is that giving up targets is not going to be easy, especially if you’ve had a serious targets habit for some time. Some managers have gotten to the point where they are on 40 targets a day. This level of addiction can make it even more difficult to go without targets at first, but recognising you have taken the first step towards ridding yourself of these evil little blighters is a great start. It might feel like your comfort blanket is being cruelly pulled away from you, but in the long run you’ll know that it was the right move. Don’t be tempted to snatch the blanket back and give it a little cuddle. Relapsing for the sake of even one target ‘just to be social’ could easily drag you back to where you were – don’t be tempted.

2. There are various products out there on the market to help you ditch your targets habit, once-and-for-all. For example, these ‘target’ patches are quite popular:

Nicotine patch

Each patch contains a small amount of the highly-addictive chemical targetine, which is found in all numerical targets.

Using the patches can soften the impact of suddenly giving up targets completely, as they release ever-diminishing doses of targetine as the user progresses through the course. Results, however can vary.

3. Another popular method involves the use of substitute targets. In a similar way that substitute cigarettes (such as the one shown) offer the user a realistic look and feel of a genuine cigarette, a pack of substitute targets allows the user to experience the thrill of looking at arbitrary numerical targets without any of the harmful side effects.

substitute cigarette

A typical pack of substitute targets looks like the example below, which happens to be a police example. There are now a wide range of these products available to suit many types of target addiction; these include substitute targets for hospital waiting times, exam results, planning applications and service level agreements for correspondence – in multiples of ‘7 working days’, ’15 working days’, or ’18 working days (excluding Bank Holidays)’.

Substitute targets

As you can see, this option offers those suffering from withdrawal symptons the opportunity to stare at numerical targets and worry about how to get the figures up by the end of the month without actually suffering any adverse side-effects. This is only possible because all these targets are completely made up out of thin air, just like real ones, so it is impossible to know the difference. Extra comfort can be drawn from pretending that the green boxes are real and came about as a result of dynamic leadership.

Some manufacturers also offer versions that include ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows to indicate apparent direction of travel, as well as products for those suffering from ‘league table withdrawal’ or trying to overcome an addiction to binary comparisons. In a survey, 87% of 15 participants said they “could not tell the difference between these substitute products and the real thing”. Now that’s science!

4. A fourth option is to undergo ‘targets hypnotherapy’. Studies report mixed success rates however, with some people being completely cured, to the extent that they immediately start using control charts to see what the data are actually telling them about performance, rather than just guessing what the figures mean, or demanding improvement without offering a method.


Others are only partially cured. Often, these poor souls still believe that some targets must be okay, or that certain targets can be appropriate ‘if properly implemented’, whatever that is supposed to mean. The Department advises careful consideration before undertaking this method.


Actually, none of these methods are any good! The only way to effectively distance yourself from targets is to use WILLPOWER.

Good luck. You’ll be glad you quit!


About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
This entry was posted in Systems thinking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How To Quit

  1. patently says:

    “87% of 15 participants”… he he good one!

  2. Ha! Well spotted! 😉

  3. Pingback: How To Quit | Policing news |

  4. brilloman says:

    What happens next to targets? With the very stern yet gentle push by those that ‘get it’ agaisnt those that don’t I see a couple of possible futures:
    1. ‘target’ becomes such a poisonus word that it simply gets rebranded and called something else by the clever word-smiths and there will be used instead.
    2. those that matter ‘get’ that targets should be removed but still don’t have any knowledge around interpretting data so move (backwards?) to random changes to the system in the hope that the data changes.

    As an aside I am enjoying the idea that 52 police forces across England and Wales are trying to do the same thing to achieve the same result (cut costs, streamlining, save money etc) using 52 sets of resources. The magnitude of the duplication is staggering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s