The dangers of target-setting.
I was watching a news article on economic immigration last night. With many sectors, including health and social care, struggling to recruit, the nation is looking abroad to fill the gap. Net migration last year was the highest on record.
Certain industries and occupations are on the ‘shortage occupations list’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skilled-worker-visa-shortage-occupations/skilled-worker-visa-shortage-occupations). Care workers and home carers are on the list, though not those working for sole traders or individuals. All senior care workers are on the list also, as are ‘residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors’, and ‘health services and public health managers and directors’.
Looking a this from a manger’s perspective there are short, medium and long-term solutions to this crisis. I’m writing about all sectors, not just care.
In the short term we need people to fill roles and pay taxes. It makes perfect sense to encourage people to come to work in the UK. There are thirty-one categories on the shortage occupations list, with many other sectors such as hospitality desperate to get on the list.
In the medium term we need to look at retention. Yes, Brexit and the pandemic had a huge impact on recruitment and retention in certain sectors. Looking at the reasons why people haven’t returned to those roles is key. Salary, working patterns, competition for other industries, and zero-hours contracts, to name a few factors, all play a part. We need to look at how we can improve these to keep staff employed in these roles.
In the long term we need to invest in education and careers advice for young people. The list covers a wide spectrum of occupations, from health and social care to management to chemical scientists to engineers to musicians to IT… it really is incredibly broad. We need to highlight these careers and really nurture the talent we have in this country - which also means investing in education and making higher education accessible to all who have the ability to benefit from it.
What we can’t afford is weak, ill-informed, ideology-driven mismanagement.
In the same news article they discussed Suella Braverman. Her priority in all of this is to ‘get immigration down’ to the ‘tens of thousands’ it was ‘under Thatcher’.
What gets measured, get prioritised. Or, as Peter Drucker said, “what gets measured gets managed - even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”.
Immigration, in this particular instance, should be a side effect of measuring and managing the short, medium and long term goals I described above. The larger the number, the less effective our efforts at building and retaining home-grown talent have been. If we train people here to do the jobs we need, and if we treat them well whilst they are doing them, immigration will become a non-issue. Focussing on just getting the numbers down without any consideration for why the numbers are so high will only harm our economy.
I don’t want this to come across an an anti-immigration rant. It isn’t. I welcome those who come to Britain to work and contribute to the economy.
The point I’m making is this: when you set goals, targets and outcomes for individuals or for teams or the organisation you are defining what is to be managed. In this case rather than the important work that needs doing, the government appears to be focused on the end result. A parallel that comes to mind in social care is the company that focuses on occupation levels rather than the quality of care on offer. If a company sets the target (and a manager’s bonus) around ensuring 95% occupancy over the year rather than the quality of care on offer, will this affect the RM’s decision in whether to accept a referral or not? Not for everybody, but there will be a net effect overall. If we offer teachers a bonus based on standardised test results, or tie school budgets to the same, will the children receive a broad, challenging and interesting curriculum? Or will huge chunks of the term be given to going over the same narrow focus covered by the tests?
I know I’ve come to a children’s home to find the hoovering and dusting are left wanting as I’ve advised staff to ‘put spending time with the children first’. I didn’t mean to spend every minute with them on the PS4, playing football, on walks, engaging and interacting to the exclusion of all else (and then hurriedly completing paperwork in the last half hour of the shift). But neither could I complain; they’d done what I’d asked.
As managers the responsibility is on us to make clear, well-thought-out targets; and accept responsibility for the fall-out when the results aren’t what we intended.
Sometimes it’s much better to focus on the process rather than the outcomes
Today is International Women’s Day. Amongst other things, it should prompt all of us to reflect on gender inequality, how it affects all of us, and what we can do to combat it. Unfortunately it also is used by many to increase division. Within moments of this being uploaded I expect the usual range of complaints that a man is daring to give his opinion on this topic, or grumpy blokes complaining that there isn’t an international men’s day (Sunday November 19th, this year).
Many view International Women’s day as little more than a self-congratulatory back-slapping exercise. Whilst in some media and social media coverage this is true, www.internationalwomensday.com has this to say:
“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.
Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity.
IWD belongs to everyone, everywhere. Inclusion means all IWD action is valid.”
There is a world of difference between congratulation and empowerment - it’s a cliche, but a rising tide lifts all boats.
Looking at this issue from the perspective of a man and a service director, there are a few practical changes I’d like to see from the government to truly help empower women in Britain.
The first would be a focus early in education on emotional intelligence and empathy; respecting the rights of all, and keeping each other safe. Too many young boys aren’t given positive female role models, nor are they given enough male role models who treat and respect women properly. This is especially important nowadays with the easy access to online pornography and shameful characters such as Andrew Tate.
Children need professional role models also. My experience of careers advice in school (this is back in the 90s, so a lot may have changed - I’m happy to be educated on how this looks now) was one of ‘too little, to late’. I do wonder how many fantastic female scientists, engineers, and other traditionally “male” roles society has failed to benefit from, because girls weren’t encouraged to pursue these paths. The same thinking applies to working-class kids who weren’t encouraged to raise their ambitions and chase traditionally “upper class” careers. We had British Steel plants near, a 3M factory, and an air-conditioning unit factory near us when I grew up. I don’t recall us being encouraged to reach for carers in law, finance of medicine.
Society also needs properly funded childcare that supports women to re-enter the workplace after giving birth, should they want to do so. The private sector simply isn’t equipped to do this, particularly with the profit motive. We need comprehensive, 8am to 7pm childcare, from early years to 15-year-olds, accessible to all.
Although this has increased in recent years, flexible working conditions are another component which disproportionately affect women’s working patterns. Alongside this, we need creative corporate solutions to the problems flexible working conditions inevitably pose. In certain roles, flexible working can cause as many problems as they solve, but these problems, I’m sure, are not insurmountable. A specific example of this would be the residential childcare sector. If we give parents the flexibility to, for example, do the school run for their children that may leave the home short of workers to take our children to school and college. One solution is of course to ensure both parents have access to flexible working, meaning the task can be shared. Flexible working solutions are far easier to implement in some roles than others, but the concept is something I think about a lot when designing rotas and policies.
Accessible, meaningful, lifelong learning opportunities are so important. Up-skilling the workforce benefits everyone. In the contexts of this post, making learning available to women would help them keep pace with their male colleagues - for example, after a career break.
This is, of course, just one man’s opinion on a topic that affects everyone. I’d love to hear your views on this, especially those coming from a different perspective than my own.
I'm reading loads of posts at the moment on being "your authentic self". Many of these articles also raise the question of whether you should be your authentic self at work, and to what extent this should be allowed or supported.
My question is this: what the hell are all these people on about?
This may sound a little “old man yells at cloud”, but bear with me. A lot what’s written on the topic is vague and unclear. As with many things you read in business and management, the concept is part insight and part buzzword.
There appears no single dictionary-standard definition of what the phrase means. But a fairly comprehensive definition is, “who you truly are as a person, regardless of your occupation, regardless of the influence of others, it is an honest representation of you. To be authentic means not caring what others think about you.” (Read more here)
I'm a middle aged bloke who reads novels of pretty much any genre. I'm a heavy metal fan. I love getting tattoos. I'm a commuter who listens to self-improvement audiobooks. I'm a considerate father who relentlessly pummels his children with dad jokes. I'm a company director who always gives the best impression of the company when meeting other professionals. I'm a creative individual who writes, blogs, and plays guitar. I can't put up a shelf. I think the answer to "Best British band ever, Beatles v Stones?" is Led Zeppelin. Black Sabbath are a close second.
So which if those is my "authentic self"?
All of them, of course. We are multi-faceted individuals who show different sides of ourselves (or wear different 'masks') in different situations.
Here's another point. When you sit at my table I have certain expectations of you. Likewise, when I sit at someone else's table they will have expectations of me - dress, conduct, contributions. Our "authentic selves" are irrelevant. We come together to do a job, complete a task, or solve a problem. Cognitive diversity is an incredibly important element in effective problem-solving, and the best solutions are found, ironically for this post, by diverse teams unafraid to challenge each other, voicing opinions and ideas that others won't think of because of their own backgrounds. All of which should be filtered through the prism of the organisation's culture; of professional conduct and professional expectations.
If this sounds a little confusing and self-contradictory, then fair enough. A quick Google search brings up plenty of posts on the importance of being your authentic self, of the benefits of bringing your authentic self to the workplace, etc, etc - but the first article describes how "in order to reap many of the benefits of feeling authentic you may have to betray your true nature". Groupthink, in other words.
Then there’s the opposite. The loudmouth who thinks everyone should listen to them and that they should be able to say whatever they want as nobody should interfere with their right to be their ‘authentic self’. In other words, the phrase can be a shield behind which people hide from criticism or accountability. I’m not saying this is what the term means, just that some will use it this way.
You may have a job in a company or industry that aligns with your personal values. Good. You may find yourself a fantastic fit for your team. Good. You may find yourself working in a relaxed, permissive environment that allows you to wear band T-shirts and show your tattoos. Good. Your authentic self’, in terms of your values, align with the people paying you to do a job.
Or you may find yourself working for somewhere that restricts what you can wear, how you look, what you can say and how you can say it. And you may, rightly or otherwise, consider this short sighted and small minded. Either way, you're at their table. You can fit in, or flee. Remember that if you do leave, you should be leaving with all the experience and skills you are able to take from the place (otherwise, what are you doing there?). They, on the other hand, are losing an employee. A fantastic employee who could have brought a lot to the team they are now missing out on; or a disruptive entitled employee who thinks it's their place to change the culture around their own values; or a mediocre employee they've already forgotten about.
I know I have left companies in the past as it was apparent their values did not reflect mine. This was my choice, and I had no expectation that the company would bend itself around my ‘authentic self’.
To me, the whole notion of being authentic at work is overhyped. It really comes down to one thing; how and if you choose to fit in with the culture at work.
Picture the scene. I was a parent to a toddler and a baby, earning £10 per hour as a senior RSW and relying on tax credits and overtime to make it through each month. Actually, given the supervisory responsibilities, rota-writing, risk assessments, budgetary oversight staff induction and other duties I'd taken on, I was to all intents and purposes a deputy manager. But that sounds like a pay rise, so I was designated as a senior.
The company owned and operated a small number of children's home, and staff were frequently moved about between the homes to cover skills shortages and staff shortfalls. I’d been reassigned to a struggling home, and asked to come in early for a supervision.
"So, why are you here?"
This question wasn't on the supervision pro forma. My previous supervisor had been stickler for rigidly adhering to the script, and this display of original thinking from one of the company's homogeneous clump of middling managers had caught me off-guard.
"Well... I mean, we work for the company and they said you needed a strong member of staff, and so they sent me over here."
"No. What are you doing here, on shift. With your experience and qualifications you should be applying for management, not a senior post.”
At this point I was yet to complete any NVQ/QCF qualification. I did have some OU qualifications which were technically equivalent to the level four I needed to manage, but getting the right people to acknowledge this was a Herculean task.
"That's the goal," I replied. "When I joined the company I was told at interview they'd fund the level four. They never did, and now it's being replaced by the level five. They're dithering on whether they want to train seniors to that level, so I'm stuck on shift for now."
"So what's your goal? What do want to achieve?"
"Operations Manager, or equivalent. Eventually. Right now I'm focused on earning 40k a year by the time I'm forty."
I think the answer she was looking for continued with something like, "but since the company won't offer anything above mandatory training I guess I'll forego all ambition and focus exclusively on helping you achieve an improved OFSTED rating so you can impress the CEO and get your bonus”. Instead she said, “Well, everyone’s got to dream, haven’t they?”. Supervision ended a few moments later, and nothing more was ever said about support or development.
A bonus is a lovely thing of course, and can be used to set targets and guide behaviours (to an extent. But that’s a different article). And of course, we all want CIW/OFSTED to love what we do. Problems occur when we start chasing regulator’s ratings and good care becomes secondary to that. Ideally, we’d achieve great outcomes for kids and this would automatically be reflected in the inspection outcomes. But again, that’s a different article.
Or is it?
The problem with this employer was that their goals didn’t align with mine. And the problem with regulators is that their goals don’t always align with what we want for the kids. Great care outcomes with poor record keeping will not equal a great inspection, and operating with one eye on the regulators can lead to a lot of defensive practice or at least the sort of recording that screams “look how caring we are!!!” rather than demonstrating effective care through outcomes.
My goal was to use my skills, knowledge and abilities develop and progress my career; their goal was to use my skills, knowledge and abilities to improve their OFSTED ratings. Essentially they had set my goals for me, and weren’t interested in what I wanted. A few months later I left for an external promotion.
If you’re going to set targets for your staff… actually, scratch that. You can’t set targets for your staff, at least meaningfully. Especially not the sort of targets that have a long-lasting impact on someone’s career. You have to set your targets with the staff, and don’t be afraid to help those who aren’t in line with your vision to find the exit.
If you’re going to set targets with staff, ensure they are included meaningfully in the target-setting. Part of the appraisal process at that company was explicitly aimed at ‘ensuring staff and the company’s targets are aligned’. To do this you need to (a) understand your staff’s targets, and (b) work to help them align.
If they had said to me, “to achieve that you’ll need to gain your management qualification and hold a management post successfully for five years before looking at an operations management role” and helped me to do so they would have had a loyal employee for that time period, and a guaranteed manager for the next five years - and one who was willing and able to move into a senior management post. They went through at least one home manager whilst I was there, and shortly after I left the senior manager sought employment elsewhere. Instead they had the cost and disruption of replacing the senior RSW who left (me), replacing the manager who left, and replacing the senior manager. All of these changes are disruptive to any team, not to mention expensive.
For my part, before the supervision had even ended I’d thought “bugger this for a game of soldiers”. Instead of 100% commitment to the home and company, I did what I needed to get by and saved my energy for a job search.
Let’s say you set the target of maintaining 80% occupancy over the year and achieving a strong inspection with CIW. CIW don’t provide ratings in the same way OFSTED do, so targets relating to CIW are necessarily vague. But you’ve got the picture. You may have an employee who simply wants to offer the best care that can to the young people. Let them. Encourage them. Use their passion to give those kids the best childhood you can. You may also have an employee who wants to progress. Again, encourage them. Train them to deliver supervisions. Mentor them to manage inductions. Show them the paperwork, difficult decisions and the conflicting priorities that make up a management role. You might scare them off, in which case you’ll have a knowledgable senior - or deputy, if your company pays for them. Anything they can do well is one less thing you have to do. You might worry, like my ex-employers, that you are training someone to leave. They are my ex-employers for a reason. People who are going to leave will do so anyway. By training and supporting them you are cultivating loyalty and making use of the skills they can offer - and potentially retaining them for longer. By refusing to do so you are only hastening their exit.
Oh, and the target I set for myself? I missed it. I was 41 before breaking through the 40k barrier. But I landed on 43k, so I’m comfortable with that.
This is the page I'll update most often, with thoughts and opinions on management, writing, and what I've been watching or listening to. So dip in and see what takes your fancy.