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Performance indicators – a bad example


I watched a Channel 4 documentary (Dispatches) last month (June 7th) about the somewhat lacking work done by some child social workers in the UK. While they may be over-stretched and burdened with bureaucracy, the have a job to do which can seriously effect peoples lives – so  was quite annoyed when I watched what an undercover social worker found (have a quick look here http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/undercover-social-worker-exclusive-video-clips). But that’s not what this blog is about, so sorry for the little rant. One thing struck me though as a management accountant while watching this. One senior social workers mentioned how their performance is rated.  Using performance metrics is common in business and all kinds of organisation, but the right metric must be used. For example, profit is one metric, but this does not tell us much about how the company treats its workers or the environment for example.  And on a day-to-day basis, business might used metrics like units sold e.g. bums on seats for airlines. In the documentary, the senior social worker mentioned that performance was measured by the number of cases closed by each social worker. The more closed, the better they were deemed to perform.  Then, she mentioned how silly this was, as there was no measure of quality – how well the case was dealt with, or how the outcomes matched what children needed. If I remember her quote correctly, she said “you could write ‘cream buns, cream buns, cream buns’ in the middle of a care report and nobody would even look at it. They (local councils or health officials I presume) are only interested in the number of cases dealt with”. Yes, this might be a bit of an extreme example, but it really does show the importance of linking a performance metric to the desired outcomes of any organisation. So, spend a little time getting it right!

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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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