Setting performance targets: critical facts you can’t afford to ignore

For any event to be sensible, it must have targets. Otherwise, anything goes and it becomes impossible to determine whether success has been achieved or not.

Targets give direction and provide the motivation to plod on. They enable the assessment of performance and therefore the management of the event. Targets flag what must be achieved for the event to be termed successful. They give meaning to measurement.

Consider a magazines distribution company that has just established that in 70 per cent of the cases, it gets the magazines to the market just on time. Is this a great or a poor performance?

This is not an easy question. Why? There is no reference point. The 70 per cent doesn’t state much. However, if it were to be revealed that the market standard for the same measure was 82 per cent and that the management of the company had set a target of 90 per cent, then it would be seen that the 70 per cent on-time delivery of magazines was not only below target but also a poor show by market standards.

A target, therefore, can be defined simply as the quantitative depiction of what must be achieved within given parameters. In essence, targets are time specific: long-term (Big hairy audacious goals), medium term (Stretch goals) and short-term (incremental goals).

The setting of targets will always be a challenging duty. It calls for a delicate balance between not setting weak targets and crafting those that might end up being impossible to attain.

Thus, while it is important to set targets that will stretch you to the limits and make you go beyond ordinary practice, your prevailing circumstances must be taken into consideration. You must set informed targets – those that are based on the most comprehensive realities of the organisation.

Where do you obtain this information from?  The sources of information to help you set realistic targets are diverse.

Trends and industry averages: Studying organisational and industry trends helps in establishing baseline data, which will be useful in predicting future performance levels. Ensure that the data in use for predictions are from periods of general stability. Data from volatile times can be misleading.

Business environment assessments: Information from situational analyses such as SWOT and PESTLE will present you with facts about the threats to and opportunities for the organisation. These are a powerful guidance for appropriate target setting.

Employees: If there are people who can break down what it takes to exceed stakeholders’ expectations, it is the people who grind their noses each day to make it happen. They have a clear understanding of customer expectations and the internal processes that work in favour of those expectations. Involving employees in setting targets will help you to get the finer details right in addition to raising buy-in among them.

Executive interviews: Interactions with senior management can generate all manner of important thoughts and facts to help determine the level of performance required for the organisation to consistently stay on the highway to success.

Feedback from external stakeholders: Customers, distributors, suppliers, and shareholders hold experiential information and expectations that if shared, could provide crucial insights into the kinds of targets that the organisation should look to attaining.

Benchmarking: Studying the star performers in your industry can offer a glimpse into their formula for success. Establish all the facts that bring about success in the organisations and use what works for you to emulate their results within the realities of your resources.