How many runs are enough? Getting better at setting targets

Baseball is a game of numbers. As spring training wraps up and the season approaches, each team is trying to set targets for their performance this year and set expectations for success. Governments are also often asked to set performance targets. Questions such as, “How many cases will the department resolve?,” “How much money will the government spend on (insert program here)?,” and “How quickly will we respond to emergencies?” are just a few examples of questions that involve target setting. The answers to these questions depend on a variety of factors and governments often have varying amounts and quality of information to help them set targets. It can seem like a tall task, but it doesn’t have to be.

At GovEx, the most frequent question we get about performance targets is “Where do we start?” To answer that question, GovEx developed a Target Setting Guide which outlines strategies for setting performance targets in a variety of situations. This post walks through some key components of the guide and is designed to provide an easy starting place for target setting efforts. This post also provides an example from GovEx’s work with the City of Tacoma showing how a city can work with employees to practice setting better targets (and have some fun along the way). 

Setting targets in a variety of situations

Almost all city leaders we interact with want to equip their staff with the ability to set defensible targets based on data and use those targets to help manage city operations. However, there is little easy and accessible information available to explain the value of setting targets to employees that also helps them to get started on setting their own targets. GovEx developed the Target Setting Guide to meet this need and break down the common barriers that can stop target setting from getting started.

The guide breaks down target setting into five common categories, with each category having its own unique circumstances and challenges that can affect target setting.Setting Targets: Categories

  • Uncertaintyno baseline data exists to set appropriate targets without guessing
  • Overconfidencetargets are unrealistic and unattainable based on baseline data
  • Mediocritytargets are far below proven capacity
  • Accuracytargets are carefully calculated to drive precise achievement
  • Stabilityperformance has reached an acceptable level, time to maintain and shift focus

There is no “right” category to begin with for target setting and all governments will have to set targets in each category at some point. The goal of the guide is to help governments set accurate targets no matter their situation. Knowing which category you’re in can go a long way toward helping you and your staff set appropriate targets. However, even if you don’t know which category you’re in, the guide can help you think through what process is needed to set initial targets. Overall, practice is the key to setting better targets and pairing some common examples from the guide with hands on training as we did in Tacoma can give employees a chance to develop skills and build confidence in their target-setting abilities.

Practicing setting targets in Tacoma

Tacoma is a city of just over 200,000 located at the south end of Puget Sound in Washington State. Tacoma has a strong history of performance management and wanted to get better at setting goals and targets across the whole city government to get ready for budget preparation. With that in mind, GovEx and Tacoma designed a training workshop to make sure that employees across the city had common knowledge of target setting so that they could develop appropriate targets for the upcoming budget cycle. The workshop focused on two things: getting city employees comfortable with the key components of goal and target setting, and practicing setting targets.

First we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page regarding terminology, as this can often get in the way of good target setting. We watched this short video and then established some basic rules together on how we would define goals and targets. We also spent time discussing how the targets would be used within the performance management structure in Tacoma to set the stage for the rest of the workshop.

Then we got into the real key for the workshop: practice. Setting targets in TacomaOur practice topic was one of my favorite pastimes, baseball, which allowed us to set targets for something that had no stakes for the employees who attended. We divided into groups and each group had to set a target for team batting performance using freely available data, which if you know anything about baseball statistics, can be overwhelming in its volume and detail. The key to setting a target in this environment was to focus on what data was the most important and use past performance to set a target for the next year.

The groups, regardless of their baseball knowledge, were able to practice picking through the data and identifying elements they thought were critical to batting performance. They then set about brainstorming factors that might affect performance in that area and identifying what information they had and didn’t have that might affect batting performance. Some groups prioritized home run data, while others focused on runs or RBIs, and some even decided that they needed more data to understand how batting performance was affecting what they really cared about, winning.

In the end, each group was able to set a defensible target for the upcoming year, as well as identify gaps in their knowledge that they would want to address next time they set a target. Some groups wanted more knowledge about the performance of individual players on the team while others identified additional pitching data as a need. All groups though were able to explain the strengths and weaknesses of their batting performance targets and plan for future action. With this practice under their belt, Tacoma staff were able to feel more comfortable about the process needed to set some real performance targets as they prepared for Tacoma’s biennial budget adoption cycle.

Getting started with target setting

Doing a workshop like we did in Tacoma is a great way to familiarize employees with setting targets and to break down the mental barriers associated with target setting. Once staff in Tacoma realized that they could apply a uniform process to setting targets using data, regardless of their prior knowledge of the subject, they felt more comfortable doing so. Especially if governments plan to use targets for performance management discussions, it’s important to make sure staff are comfortable setting and using targets in their daily work.

There are many ways to get started with target setting and the best way to improve is to practice. So get some data and jump in. If you have questions about target setting in general, want to know more about the GovEx Target Setting Guide, or have any examples of other great resources on target setting, let us know.