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
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