Transform your organisation with
inspiring training & coaching

The Trouble With Targets – People Will Meet Them!

A while ago, I had to go to the A & E Department in my local hospital. Nothing too serious, I had a very painful knee and my doctor was concerned that it might be infected so he sent me along to have it checked out.

Unfortunately, my wife and I have had a lot of experience with A & E Departments in recent years so we weren’t looking forward to it. We expected a long wait – and we got one.

To cut a very long story short, I was there for 4 hours, until midnight in fact. Then a nurse came over to me and said, “Can you come with me, we need to admit you.”

In other words, I was going to have to stay the night in hospital.

I asked why this was, since no-one had actually seen me, so no-one could have decided that it was serious enough to justify staying in hospital.

She said, “It’s what we have to do now. There’s a limit of 4 hours for anyone waiting in A & E and, if you haven’t been seen in that time, we have to admit you.”

Apparently, one of the targets that hospitals had been set to determine whether they were providing a good service was that no-one should wait in A & E for more than 4 hours. So it seems that this hospital’s answer was to admit people once the 4 hours were up. That way, no-one could have a longer wait.

The result was that I had to go onto a ward and find a spare bed. Around 1.30am a consultant came and looked at my knee and took some blood. Half an hour later, he came back, said it wasn’t infected and told me I could go home in the morning with some painkillers.

So I took up a hospital bed I didn’t need, endured a sleepless night on the ward and left the hospital at about 6.00 the next morning.

This is a good example of what happens when people are given targets which they have to meet, especially if the consequences of not meeting them are serious. They will find a way to meet the target, even if that means doing things which don’t seem to make any sense.

The same thing happens in workplaces. When I was a Tax Consultant, I had to account for every minute of my time and allocate it either to a client number or to “non-billable” time. We were given targets of non-billable time, a maximum we were allowed, and we were in trouble if we didn’t meet them.

The result, in some cases, was that people were very tempted to exaggerate the time it took to carry out certain tasks so that their timesheets looked better and they reached their target for billable hours.

This is the problem – if you set someone a target and their pay, their promotion, or even their job depends on meeting that target, they’ll find a way to meet it. Because that will be their priority. But that may mean ignoring other important areas or distorting their behaviour just to meet the target.

There’s an obsession with targets in some areas, particularly public services – hospitals, schools, the Civil Service – but also in the private sector. It’s part of the flawed idea that “what can be measured can be managed”. The thinking is that, if you can’t measure something by statistics, you can’t be sure it’s happening and you can’t control it.

So things like patient care, quality of teaching and customer service are reduced to a numerical level so that targets can be set and performance measured. Hospitals and schools, for example, can be compared through league tables based on these results, how they perform against the targets set.

There may also be some idea that targets are motivating, they give people something to aim for. What is sometimes behind this is a view that, if you don’t set targets for people, they won’t try. They won’t do something for its own sake, or because they have a commitment to quality, they’ll only do it because someone is measuring their performance on a scale of some sort.

As you may have gathered, I’m not a great fan of these sort of targets. I think they often backfire and organisations need to be very careful about assuming that meeting a target is the same as providing a high quality of service.

In my experience, if a group of people are meeting a target, you need to look around and see what else is happening – what areas are being neglected to allow them to meet it? You need to look at the bigger picture, to consider their performance as a whole and not just the specific areas where the targets have been set.

Bear this in mind if you’re a manager and you set targets for your team, or if they have targets set for them and you are expected to monitor and manage their performance.

Delegation – No Accountabitlity Without Responsibility!

I saw a great cartoon about delegation the other day.

A manager says to a member of his team, “I’m making you fully accountable for this project.”

The other person says,” Great, so you’re giving me full decision rights, access to all relevant information and the resources, budget and time needed to complete the job successfully?”

The manager says, “Well, no, not exactly.”

The other person says, “Fine, I’ll start working on my list of excuses now.”

Delegation is an issue that many managers struggle with. For one thing, most managers don’t delegate as much as they should do. For another, when they do delegate, they’re not sure what they’re actually delegating.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if you delegate a task to someone, what are you actually delegating? How much responsibility are you passing on to them?

If you expect someone to carry out a job, you need to give them the resources, support, authority and time they need to do it properly.  If you do that, you’re entitled to hold them accountable for their results.

On the other hand, if you give them the task but then tie one hand behind their back by not letting them have relevant information or not allowing them to make relevant decisions, you’re not really delegating fully, are you? You’re not really giving them responsibility. So you can’t then hold them accountable for the results.

Some managers might argue, “But I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for results. I’m the one who is held accountable, so it’s only right that I make the key decisions and I control the resources.”

That’s true – up to a point. Yes, you may ultimately be responsible for, say, completing a project. But if you decide to delegate part of that task (which you should, because as a manager, your job is to get things done by managing other people, not to do everything yourself) then you also delegate a part of the responsibility.

Delegation means that you give someone else the tools they need to do the job you’ve given them – and that means some ability to make decisions, to manage resources, etc. Then, if they don’t do the job well, they are answerable for their performance.

But you can’t have it both ways – there’s no accountability without responsibility!

Preparing For Your Performance Appraisal

On many of my management training courses, and in many of my articles, I’ve talked about how managers can prepare for running performance appraisals and, in particular, given them tips about how to deliver feedback in a constructive way.

I know that a lot of managers spend quite a bit of time preparing to run these meetings and planning to try to make them as successful as possible.

However, one thing which has become apparent in talking to many people is that they don’t actually spend much time thinking about their own appraisals or reviews.

They’re not always very clear what they want or expect to come from the meetings and they’re not sure what to do in advance to make sure the discussion goes well. They just tend to turn up and hope for the best.

Needless to say, that’s not really the best approach!

Here are some things you should think about if you’ve got an appraisal coming up.

  • What have you achieved during the review period? Go back over your work for the period and list all your successes, with examples and evidence.
  • Look back over any objectives which were set from your last appraisal. Have you met them? If not, make a list of reasons why or any examples of objectives which have been overtaken by subsequent events.
  • Think about what you most enjoy about the job and how you might want to develop your role. Can you put a business case which supports any development or change in your role (including any promotion you feel you should be considered for)?
  • Are there any aspects of your work in which you feel you need to improve or where you might expect some criticism of your performance? What do you think needs to be done about this and what support do you need?
  • What learning and development needs do you have for the coming period? Prepare arguments to support your case for specific training.
  • What level of support and guidance do you require from your manager?
  • What would be some key objectives for the next review period? What expectations do you expect the organisation will have of you over the next year?
  • What outcomes are you looking for from the meeting? How do you want it to go? What results are you looking for? What do you want to ask for?
  • What demands do you think are going to be made of you and how do you feel about them? What are you going to say if you are asked to commit to any objectives you feel are unreasonable?

If you can cover these main areas, you will be pretty well prepared for whatever comes up (and probably more prepared than the person giving the appraisal). You’re less likely to be caught by surprise and you’ll be able to give a good account of yourself and put forward forceful arguments to support your own position.

Some Questions To Think About To Help You Give Better Feedback

If you’re responsible for managing or supervising someone else, there will come a time when you need to give them feedback about their performance.

In many cases, managers try to avoid giving feedback because they find it awkward. They can’t think of the right things to say, they’re not sure how to raise the issues they want to discuss and they’re wary of causing conflict by appearing to criticise the other person.

But, in the end, a major part of your job as a manager is to get the best out of the people you manage. And that means giving them feedback, ideally on a regular basis, not just at an annual appraisal.

To help you prepare for such occasions, here is a list of questions you can ask yourself when you’re about to give someone feedback. Why not pick out the ones which seem most important or helpful to you and use them to structure your thoughts before you approach the person you’re giving feedback to?

(I’ve taken these questions from a really useful pack of cards which are part of some materials you can get from )

  • What is this person not doing which is expected of them?
  • What is this person doing which is unexpected?
  • How would this person describe themselves?
  • What are this person’s blind spots?
  • What are the 3 best qualities this person brings to the team?
  • What gets in this person’s way?
  • What assumptions are you, and others, making about this person?
  • What would make this person’s performance even better?
  • What are this person’s measures of success?
  • What level of energy does this person show towards their work?
  • What is the most appropriate management style to get the best out of this person?
  • What seems to be important to this person?
  • What aspects of this person’s skills/knowledge/experience are not being fully used?
  • What unique contribution can this person make to the team?

I’m sure, if you work through some of these questions, you’ll have a clearer and more balanced idea of what you need to say to bring out the best in them.

A Great Way To Undermine Confidence – And Most Organisations Do It!

I’ve coached a number of people over the years on issues to do with confidence.

One of the things I’ve often suggested to help these people to feel more confident and to develop their self-belief is to write a Success Journal. Every day they write down anything at all which could be considered a success or an achievement, however small.

The idea of this is that it makes people focus on what they’re doing well, not on what they’re doing badly. Because one of the problems for people lacking confidence is that they do tend to focus on what they see as their mistakes, weaknesses or failings. And they tend to overlook or discount their strengths, skills and abilities.

And, in my experience, a lot of organisations do exactly the same thing.  Rather than concentrate on what people are good at, they zoom in on their perceived weaknesses.

If I think about many of the performance reviews I’ve seen or been involved in, this is exactly what happens. There may be some positive elements (and many people doing reviews have heard of the ‘feedback sandwich’ where you put negative comments in between positive ones) but the main focus is on areas of “weakness”.

Sometimes these are now called “development opportunities” or some other euphemism, but the point is the same. The conversation is mainly about where the person needs to improve, on the areas where they are not performing.

Now, I’m not suggesting that managers, for example, should ignore areas where people are underperforming or not mention them. But should that be the main thing they look at?

 It seems to me that many organisations really want their people to be “all-rounders”, good at a wide range of things, rather than specialists who have areas of excellence.

Rather than find people who are brilliant at certain things and then say,”Off you go, do what you’re best at, be amazing!” they say,”Yes, you’re good at those things, but what about these other things? You’re not so good at those. Let’s work on those and get you to be a bit better at them.”

The result is often that people who might actually be outstanding at certain things aren’t allowed to show how great they are. They’re forced to be mediocre at a range of other things instead.

In some cases, they’re actually put in situations where they just can’t perform well. They may even be taken away from areas where they were excelling and made to do things they struggle with. This has certainly happened to me in the past. It makes little sense to me that employers do this but it seems to happen all the time.

And often that means that people lose confidence in themselves and are always performing at less than their best.

I read something recently along the lines of, “Dolphins are brilliant but, if you judge them by their ability to climb trees, you’ll think they’re stupid.”

If you want to see people doing amazing things, find out what they’re great at and get them doing that. If you want to drain their confidence and make them mediocre, keep focusing on their weaknesses. That’ll do the trick!

The Triple Whammy Of Poor Delegation

Whenever I deliver any training on management in general, or time management in particular, the subject of delegation always causes a lot of discussion. And it’s one of those topics where people say, ” Yes, I know I should do it, but…”

The funny thing is, whoever it is I’m working with, I can predict how that sentence is going to end. Because the same excuses, sorry, reasons for not delegating always come out.

“I know I should delegate more but…it’s quicker to do it myself/I need to know it’s going to be done properly/I’ll only have to spend time checking it anyway” or some variation on that theme.

Most reasons for not delegating come down to a lack of trust in the people who work for you. You don’t delegate because you don’t think they’ll do a good enough job.

Of course, this is self-defeating. If you don’t delegate, people will never learn how to do the tasks you need them to do, so you’ll keep doing them yourself…and so on.

Yes, delegation will involve some investment of your time at first because you will need to train people to do the tasks correctly. You will need to review their work, help them when necessary and give them feedback. But the end result should be that they will, at some point, become skilled enough for you to leave them alone to get on with that task, saving you time in the long run.

Actually, although this is usually the stated reason why people don’t delegate, there are others which people don’t like to admit but which are often the real barriers.

For example, many managers don’t delegate enough because they haven’t made the mental shift into management. What I mean is, they haven’t realised that their job now is more about managing other people in order to get things done rather than doing things themselves.

When you become a manager, you should leave behind many of the tasks you used to do. Those are now someone else’s job and you should be delegating those tasks to them so they can learn how to do them (in the same way that you learned).

One of the reasons that many managers I work with are so overworked is because they are still doing tasks associated with their previous role as well as all the new tasks they are meant to be taking on. So no wonder they don’t get to go home on time.

Another reason many people don’t delegate is, not because they don’t trust other people to do things correctly, but because they don’t trust them to do things in exactly the same way they would themselves. In other words, some managers seem to think they know the best, in fact the only, way to do something. And they don’t want someone else having a go and trying to do it differently.

What amazes some managers is finding out that there can be different ways to approach a task. And what amazes them even more is finding out that some of these new ways may be more effective than their old ways. I worked with a manager recently who said he was genuinely surprised that, when he eventually delegated a job to one of his team, that person came up with a new way of doing it which was far quicker and more efficient than the way he had been doing it himself for years.

Whatever the reasons, a failure to delegate effectively can cause serious problems. In fact, it can be a “triple whammy”.

First of all, it causes problems for the managers because, as I’ve mentioned, they end up working far harder than is necessary and may struggle to find time to carry out their management roles because of spending too much time on tasks which are no longer appropriate.

Secondly, this causes problems for the people in the team who should be learning and developing by taking on the tasks which the managers should be delegating. They can become underworked and underskilled, frustrated by the lack of opportunity caused by the managers hogging all the work.

Thirdly, all this causes problems for the organisation. Apart from having overworked managers and underdeveloped staff, there is a commercial impact. Work is being done at the wrong level. Instead of being passed down the chain, it is being moved up as managers continue to do things they should have left behind. Since managers are presumably paid more, this means that the work is more expensive. It costs more than it should to get things done, so the business becomes less profitable.

So a failure to delegate is not a minor issue, it can be a major problem. It is one of the critical management skills and one which managers, and organisations, need to take very seriously.

People Follow What You Do, Not What You Say

I was discussing the topic of Performance Management with several groups recently and one point kept coming up.

Before I tell you what it was, let me say that Performance Management is pretty well the essence of management itself. It’s the ability to get other people performing at the highest level they can for as much of the time as possible.

One of the things you need to grasp very quickly when you become a manager is that you are going to be judged, not just on how well you do your own work, but on how well you can get other people to do theirs.

Now, of course, there are lots of ways to try to improve other people’s performance but the one which kept coming up in our discussions was this – you need to set the example for others to follow.

A number of people said, ” Don’t ask your team to do something which you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.”

As a manager, you need to be the role model for your team. You need to lead by example.

If you want to ask your team to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, you need to be the first to do it. If you want them to put in a bit extra or do something that’s not strictly in their job description, you need to show that you’re doing it as well.

People are inspired and motivated by managers and leaders who set the bar high, for themselves as well as others. They can also spot hypocrisy a mile off. They know the managers who are all talk but won’t be there when the going gets tough.

I’ve worked for both kinds of person myself, managers who saw it as their role to set the standard and to raise their own performance because they were in a position of responsibility and others who thought, “I’m a manager now, I can get other people to do the difficult stuff”.

The first kind earned the right to ask their teams to follow them, to do more, to work harder or better. The second group earned nothing but contempt.

​Another issue which often comes up when I’m talking to managers, especially new ones, is “Should a manager want or expect to be liked?”

I tend to say that a manager should first want to be respected. And part of that is how people see you behaving. If they see a congruence between what you say and what you do, there is more chance that they will respect you because that shows integrity and commitment.

As soon as you become a manager of any kind, you automatically become a role model, whether you like it or not. People will look at you to see what example you’re setting. You need to decide what they are going to see.

The 3 Things That Cause People To Underperform

One of the main questions I get from managers is how to deal with underperforming team members. Of course, what counts as ” underperforming ” depends on the context but it generally means someone is not reaching the levels you want them to.

I think there are 3 things which cause people to underperform, or more specifically, the lack of 3 things.

1. Clarity

People may not be performing at the level you want them to simply because they don’t know what that level is. They don’t know exactly what’s expected of them.

They be uncertain about their role or about what their priorities should be. For example, when I used to work in a Tax department, there was, of course, a need for accuracy and quality in the work done. But there was also a pressing need for speed because we were always working to budgets and more time meant less profit.

New people were sometimes criticised for taking too long on jobs, but they often hadn’t realised that this was so important. They thought they should take as long as they needed to get it right. The manager’s role there would be to explain clearly what was expected.

Another issue can be that people are not clear how well ( or otherwise ) they are actually performing. This is usually because no-one gives them consistent feedback.

Again and again, I meet managers who don’t give feedback unless someone is not doing well. Then they get plenty of feedback, although it isn’t always helpful.

Feedback is guidance to help someone learn what counts as outstanding, acceptable and unacceptable performance. So people should be told when they’re doing really well, just doing enough or underperforming. They shouldn’t be left in the dark until their performance drops below a certain level, then given a rollocking.

2. Ability

People may be underperfoming because they lack the ability. So they know what’s expected but they can’t deliver it.

They may not have the skills or knowledge to do the job well enough. In that case, it could be a development issue – they need training, coaching, mentoring or some other form of support to help them improve. The manager’s role there is to identify relevant development opportunities and make sure the person has access to them.

If they don’t respond to these efforts, it may be that they’re just not right for the job. But it’s not fair to reach that conclusion until you’ve given them the opportunity to show what they can do after the development steps have been taken.

But people’s ability to do a job isn’t just down to their own skills and knowledge. They also need the resources and support to do their job well. In some organisations, people are hampered by lack of resources, poor systems, understaffing, unrealistic time constraints and other problems which cause them to struggle.

In that case, they may be doing the best job anyone could in the circumstances. A manager here would need to be clear about where the organisation itself was hampering performance and make some allowances when judging how well people were doing.

Of course, I know that this often doesn’t happen and people continue to be expected to perform to the same level even when resources ( and staff ) are cut. I also understand that managers may have very little influence in some cases over what the organisation does in terms of staffing and resources.

3. Motivation

The other factor affecting performance is motivation. In this case, people know what’s expected and they have the ability to work to that level, but they just don’t care enough to make the effort.

This could be down to any number of reasons, some may be personal and nothing to do with work. Lack of motivation can cause a temporary drop in performance levels or it can become an ongoing problem.

It can arise from some of the other factors I’ve mentioned, e.g. lack of clarity, lack of development opportunities, no feedback, pressure to perform with limited resources and cuts in staffing. So those issues may need to be addressed.

I mentioned above that managers may not have much say in how an organisation cuts resources or staffing. In that case, it is particularly important that managers deal with the issues they can influence, such as giving positive feedback, supporting staff as much as possible, recognising good work, keeping up morale and spirits and being a role model for others.

Personal issues affecting motivation might be addressed through counselling, mentoring or coaching and the manager needs to develop an open and supportive relationship with staff to make sure this can happen. Of course, this doesn’t develop overnight, it needs to be part of the manager’s ongoing role and style.

So these are the 3 key areas I think managers need to consider if they are faced with underperforming team members. They need to be able to identify the right cause in order to come up with the right solution. Just assuming that the person isn’t capable or isn’t trying hard enough may be wide of the mark

For more great management ideas, get your FREE copy of  The Book Of 100 Management Tips from

The 3 Rs Of Successful Management

Last year, I visited several organisations delivering a talk called ” Bringing Out The Best In People “. 

One of the key elements of the talk was that, to get the best out of people who work for you, you need to give them 3 things – coincidentally, they all begin with R. I thought I’d share them with you today.

1. Recognition

One of the major motivators for people at work, supported by research and also by my own experience of speaking to hundreds of people about this, is recognition.

If you want people to perform at a high level consistently, you need to make sure that you recognise their efforts. Of course, recognition can take many forms – it could mean a bonus, a mention in the company newsletter, a certificate, an ” employee of the month ” award.

But do you know one of the most powerful ” recognition strategies ” you can use to motivate people?

Just saying, ” Thanks, you did a really good job there, I appreciate it. ”

Never underestimate the impact of just letting someone know that they’ve done a good job. I’ve worked for people who did this regularly and it always made me want to do that bit more for them. They were the managers that other people wanted to work for and produced their best work for.

On the other hand, if you do your best or give a bit extra to meet a deadline, for example, and no-one says a thing – how likely are you to make the effort the next time?

I’ve worked with, and coached, managers who thought it was unnecessary to thank people for ” just doing their job ” – and it’s not surprising that these managers found it hard to get the best out of their teams.

2. Responsibility

If you want to see what people can do, you need to give them the chance.

You’ll never learn what someone’s potential is until you give them some responsibility and see how they react to it.

And that means mentioning a word which I know lots of managers don’t like, which is delegation.

I constantly meet managers who hold on to work which they shouldn’t be doing because they don’t really trust their teams to do the work for them. Then they complain because they’re too busy!

At some point, you need to give the people who work for you a chance to show you what they’re capable of. Some will shine, some may struggle, but unless you give them a go you’ll never find out.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw people in at the deep end and leave them to struggle. You need to give them some support and help them when necessary. But it doesn’t mean standing over their shoulder watching their every move either.

You need to find a balance where you give people the support they need but also give them scope to try things out for themselves. 

One manager I worked with said he had been reluctant to let some of his team take on tasks he used to do himself but, when he finally let go, he found that they came up with new ways of tackling the work which were better than the way he used to do it!

3. Role Model

Mahatma Gandhi said, ” Be the change you wish to see in the world “.

If you want people to behave in a certain way, you need to be the example. People will respond to what you do more than they’ll respond to what you say.

And, guess what? If you’re a manager, you already are a role model. People are already looking at you to see how you behave and taking their cue from that. They look at you to see what’s acceptable, what’s expected, what they have to aim at.

What are they seeing?

You can’t expect others to do their best and give a bit extra if they see you coasting or taking it easy.

You can’t expect others to be positive and motivated if they hear you moaning and griping about things.

You can’t expect others to work together as a team if you don’t give them support and leadership.

Your own behaviour determines how high you set the bar for others. What example are you giving them?

Those are my 3 Rs of successful management, If you can offer these, you’ll be well on the way to getting the best out of the people who work for you, and also becoming the sort of manager others want to work for.

How To Change The Way Other People Treat You

I was doing a series of one to one coaching sessions with people from a local business the other day and a particular theme started to emerge from the day. It was about how to try to change the way other people treat you.

Some of the people I was coaching were trying to change the behaviour of people who worked for them. Others had problems with more senior people, in other words they were trying to manage their boss.

What struck me from these conversations was that there seem to be 4 key steps to trying to change the way other people treat you. Missing out any of these steps makes it very hard to succeed.

Step 1  Tell them how you want them to behave

This may seem blindingly obvious but it doesn’t always happen. I’ve often coached people who say, ” I wish X would stop doing Y “. But when I ask if they’ve mentioned this to X, they say, ” No “.

Sometimes this is because they’re afraid of the reaction. They think the other person might be angry or react badly in some way. It may be because the other person is senior to them and they’re intimidated.

But, if you don’t tell someone how you want them to behave, how are they supposed to know? You need to set out, calmly and clearly, what you want from them. For example,

” You need to get to work on time every day ” or, ” I’d like you to stop dropping work on my desk at the last minute and asking me to stay and work late. ”

Step 2 Change your response

You can’t directly change the way other people behave but you can change your own behaviour. You can change the way you respond to them and the way they treat you.

Your actions should back up your words. So, if you ask someone to stop sending you emails on your day off, then stop answering them. It’s no use telling them you don’t want to be disturbed on your day off but then acting in a way which undermines what you’ve said. You’re just encouraging them to keep doing it.

Step 3  Be consistent

Just like young children, your colleagues need to understand that ” no ” means ” no “.

If you’ve decided you don’t want to answer voicemail messages on your day off, then never answer them. Don’t make exceptions.

If you ask someone to do something and they don’t, then point it out. Every time you let it go, they’ll think, ” I got away with it that time and nothing happened. I’ll try it again. ”

Step 4  Play ” consequences “

If someone doesn’t do what you want, what’s going to happen? If the answer is ” nothing “, then there’s no real incentive for them to change. 

In some cases, the fact that you express your disapproval may be enough. If the person doesn’t want to offend or annoy you, they’ll change. In other cases, it may take more – such as having some impact on their career or workload. In serious cases, it may take the threat of some form of disciplinary action.

If the person is senior to you, you may need to take the matter up with a colleague on the same level or more senior than they are or with someone from HR.

But often it won’t come to that. In a lot of situations, being clear about what you want from people, putting down a marker about what behaviour you think is acceptable and then acting in a consistent way in your response will be enough to make a difference.

Site by: Dawud Miracle, Business Coach & WordPress Websites