What are you aiming at?

Unfortunately I recently had cause to spend several hours in the middle of the night in Accident and Emergency at our local hospital. In addition to the care the staff gave their patient I was impressed at how focused the entire team was on targets.

It was clear that all staff understood the targets and the consequences of not achieving them. What’s more there was significant evidence of teamwork driving towards target achievement. It got me wondering just how many small businesses are really clear about what they are trying to achieve.

Targets focus the mind and should generate action.  In the NHS failure to meet targets leads to public ridicule, angry articles in the media and questions in the House. But what are the consequences of a small business failing to meet its targets? To some extent the answer will depend on what the targets are. Obviously failure to meet income or profit targets can ultimately lead to the loss of the business but this is an extreme.

As owners of small businesses we should be setting targets linked to rewards or consequences so that our minds and actions are focused on achievement. So how can we do this? Publishing our customer service targets will mean customers will hold us to account when we don’t deliver. Domino’s Pizza built their business on promising delivery in 30 minutes or the pizza was free. That promise focused the mind although there were some negative consequences from a safety point of view.  But you get the principle; how can you apply it to your business?

Perhaps you could reward achievement of an income target by using the extra money to buy some help or new equipment. Achieving a cost cutting target might be rewarded by better health or more sleep! Targets for increasing the customer base should be rewarded by increased sales. Some targets may mean making a promise to an outsider such as a business adviser or coach who will hold you to account.

There continues to be a lot of debate about NHS targets and it fairly clear that hospitals have found ways to manage the targets without necessarily improving patient care. In fact I’m not sure that the need to meet the targets is always in the best interest of patients. For instance if a patient needs to be monitored for several hours does it really matter where that monitoring takes place so long as it is as comfortable, private and dignified as possible?

We were fortunate to be at the hospital on a quiet night and it seemed to me that patients had to be moved after a certain length of time in order to stick within the target. This meant that more than one area had to be staffed which I would have thought stretched the budget more than necessary.

In a small business we have much more flexibility. We can set targets which are sensible and relevant to our own businesses. We can adjust them when they appear to be counter productive. What we mustn’t do is change them just because we haven’t achieved them. We need to ask why we haven’t achieved them. Was the target wrong in the first place or have we simply failed to take the action required to achieve it?

If you need help to identify your targets or want someone to hold you to account for their achievement give Glenda a call on 020 8991 2767 or email me at glenda.shawley@thetrainingpack.co.uk


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