Thursday, October 11, 2007

'It takes more than Mr Targets to get results' - another Caulkin 'must read'

Lest anyone remains that thinks that targets work to effect results for which they were intended then read this excellent article by Simon Caulkin. To any systemist targets epitomise all that was wrong with the Blair years. As Simon points out:

'As someone said, carrots and sticks are useful for donkeys and if the object is direct and simple. Likewise targets. Of course, as Barber [Sir Michael Barber who set up and ran the Prime Minister's delivery Unit - PMDU - from 2001 to 2005 and was Blair's 'Mr Targets] writes, it is important to know what success is and devise measures to track progress towards it. But it's bad faith to try to motivate people with financial incentives then complain they are self-interested; and disingenuous to pretend that the unintended consequences of crude numerical targets are trivial.'

'Even Barber concedes that getting from 'adequate' to 'good', let alone 'great', can't be done by central fiat. It needs to enlist hearts and minds. It also requires the ability to look at and manage the system as a whole. Barber acknowledges the need for 'whole system reform' in passing, but only in passing, and gives no hint of the extent to which the blunt, soviet-tractor-style techniques of PMDU Mark 1 (targets, carrots and sticks) are incompatible with it.'

In his argument Caulkin makes the case, I believe, for 'delivery' based around systemic practices that acknowledge the complexity that has to be engaged with. Indirectly he makes the case for significant capacity building in systems thinking and practice skills. As he says:

'As an easy solution to a complex problem, this is what targets do. It's not that they are too ambitious or can't be made to work, at least temporarily; it's that optimising the parts is the enemy of the much greater returns that only system reform can deliver.'

To think and act differently - to appreciate systemic complexity and act purposefully to improve complex situations is one of the major needs of our times!

No comments: