The curious case of year-end targets.. and achieving them creatively

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Closure of any year is a particularly stressful period, and in India its end-March, and we’re just through it now. Students are worried about their exams, while working professionals about their financial-year targets. However, there is a subtle difference between the two. Students know the questions posed and await interpretation of the results, while working professionals know their results and await re-interpretation of the questions.

It is not just the sales professionals who are understandably worried about the year-end targets and their achievement numbers. In a democratisation of pain, the stress associated with variable pay and performance-linked-bonus has been spread across the levels of most organisations today.

Unfortunately, unlike sales achievement which is a hard number, target metrics for most other roles are hard to quantify. And many companies fail to translate them into objective metrics. What do you make of ambiguous targets like ‘Innovation achieved’, ‘Value added to customer’, ‘Process improvements implemented’? While attempting to measure metrics like these, your interpretation is as sound as mine.

We are a creative bunch of people and our imagination runs wild, more so when we need to ‘make ends meet’. Definitions are stretched, terminologies twisted and lo and behold, miraculously every year-end target is then met. Perhaps a situation as dangerous as a startup founder envisioning a billion dollar business plan, on MS Excel!

After all, there are ‘smart marketing’ companies who claim to be custodians of customer service, while consumers cook their goose on social media. Haven’t we seen firms make tall claims as ‘the world’s best company…within the SME segment…amongst firms established in their hometown…and then a tiny subtext attributes it to a questionable poll conducted by a whodunnit survey-company’. A classic case of redefinition of the market segment at convenience, and putting oneself at the top of this stack. Not very different from their employees who invent a glowing self-appraisal & meet targets.

In one of my earlier organisations, at the end of a mediocre year, the entire hierarchy went about this creative journey of tallying targets in excel sheets. When the process was over, the entire organization looked good on paper, except one guy, who was right at the top! The hassled CEO, after an apparently not-so-good board review quipped “how on earth is it possible that the entire organization has met 100% of their targets, except me, who is incidentally leading the same organization and has met the very same numbers at just 40%” :)

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