5 things the Government's 100k test target tell us about goal-setting

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On Friday last week, Matt Hancock announced that the NHS had hit the target of 100k Covid-19 tests set back in early April. In fact, the official briefing quoted that over 122k tests had been carried out. While there is a debate about how accurate or not this figure is (not for discussion here), there are 5 points  worth discussing about organisational target-setting in general:

  1. Setting big goals works. Just like Jim Collins’ concept of ‘Big, hairy, audacious goals’ (BHAGs), setting a goal that an organisation can rally around can have a “galvanising” effect, just as Matt Hancock said it would when asked to defend it. Regardless of whether the target is hit or not, setting a big ambitious target is a great way of focusing a team on a specific task and achieving more than just saying “do as many as possible”. 
  2. Targets need to be clear. While 100k was a good target - ambitious, achievable, memorable - the ensuing debate also demonstrates that perhaps it could have been better articulated at the start. Was it 100k tests carried out or analysed? Is it 100k successful tests or can “void” tests be included? While striking the balance between detail and ease-to-remember is not always easy, a little more detail from the government may have helped in this case. 
  3. How many targets is the right number? While the Government did achieve it’s one big target, did we hit our PPE target? What about the ‘R’ rate that is getting such attention in Germany and elsewhere? While it’s not easy to get the right number of metrics on a scorecard, one target is rarely enough and can have the effect of prioritising a single issue ahead of other equally or more-important issues. We always recommend 3-7 metrics on any scorecard or quarterly ‘rocks’ (the EOS name for targets) as about the right amount for any single leadership team. 
  4. Get the timeframe right. As anyone in business knows, targets should always be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based). The 100k target was time-based (30th of April was defined early on) and seems appropriate in this case but this doesn’t mean a month is always the right length of time. We normally recommend 90-day ‘Rocks’ in EOS but during this crisis period, I’m advising several clients to reduce this to 30 days given the rapidly-changing environment. A word of advice: there are a number of studies showing that humans struggle to relate to longer-term goals (much more than 90 days) so resist the urge to set annual or even six-monthly goals only. 
  5. Communicate and Celebrate your successes. It’s easy to get caught up in the next set of challenges as a leader. But when you or your team hits a target, it is important to share and celebrate the achievement regardless of how long and hard the next phase of the journey might be. Part of the reason for setting tough targets is the institutional confidence that is gained from hitting them (that doesn’t come from either easy targets or no target at all). That confidence is not just felt by the team that was responsible for it either: it resonates around your whole organisation and even extends to suppliers and customers.

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