What a performance! Why measures to gauge results are so often a waste of time

    The theory behind performance indicators is great. The idea that you can count how well you are doing and then compare it with other organisations sounds like a really fair way of evaluating who is performing best, writes a social worker who wishes to remain anonymous.

    If only it were true. Known in most organisations as the Department for Lying and Cheating, performance management sections are experts at stretching the small amount of reliable information they have into something acceptable for inspectors.

    Then there’s the actual indicators themselves. They can almost always be interpreted in the opposite way from that intended. For example, there is one that counts the number of people supported at home. A high figure suggests that the authority is doing well by supporting many individuals. Alternatively it could be suggested that they may have created a nanny state where no one can manage independently of them.

    Idiotic decisions

    This then leads to all sorts of idiotic decision-making where sensible solutions for improving services cannot go ahead for fear of adversely affecting the dubious counting process. For example, if we commission a service that empowers carers to deal with things themselves without state intervention then ironically we may reduce the count for the amount of carers supported.

    So if we do develop such a service we have to ensure that they count the same silly numbers too. Before long we are looking to count anything and anyone and I have some suggestions to improve your figures. People supported at home – try standing outside your local Spar and counting everyone who goes inside and comes out again. Number of people who direct their own care – try counting all self-funders and anyone who hasn’t approached you for help.

    Then there is the most ridiculous part: who really looks at them and what do they do with the information? Other than the inspectors, nobody looks at it and nobody does anything useful with them.

    Counting for counting’s sake

    If I thought for one minute we were changing services as a result of the information we have found then I would feel differently. The fact is we are counting for counting’s sake and wasting huge amounts of time in the process. Sadly the situation only gets worse as successive governments become more obsessed with measuring what we do to the extent that we now do little else.

    While I concede we need to count some things, when they are taken beyond a team or individual level they have little use. They also take up a disproportionate amount of time and effort. If this time was routed through to actually managing the performance of the team and the individuals within it then services could really improve. The reality is that positive outcomes for service users are almost impossible to quantify, as they are so subjective.

    ● If you have something to get off your chest, e-mail your gripe to daniel.lombard@rbi.co.uk

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