Meeting your company's targets - a one-sentence Sir Humphrey guide

MPs on the House of Commons’ Defence Committee have been trying to work out whether the Ministry of Defence has met its targets for 2007/8.

And they’re not quite sure.

The secret of the MoD’s success has been to be vague in the targets and sub-targets it sets. Then it reports against them in a way which implies they have been achieved, but on close scrutiny could mean the opposite. 
So perfect is the MoD’s mastery of the ambiguous that nobody can be quite sure what the position is.

The Defence Committee said in its report on the MoD’s annual accounts 2007/08:

“The terminology used [by the MoD] in reporting was ambiguous and could equally cover near-success and close to abject failure, and the level of subjectivity in assessing performance against some targets was very considerable indeed.”

The Committee criticised the MoD’s lack of transparency – and its management of a £235m “JPA” IT payroll project.

So that’s how it’s done: targets can seem to be met when the reporting of facts actually obscures them.

As Jonathan Swift, one of the most perceptive writers of all time, said:  “Where I am not understood, it shall be concluded that something very useful and profound is couched underneath.”


PS: The quoted sentence from the Defence Committee’s report has nothing to do with 1 April. At least I don’t think so. 

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as a point of clarification, the extract you quote is in response to the MOD's practice of reporting performance objectives as being "partly met."

The Defence Committee observed that this could be interpreted to mean anywhere being almost completely met to hardly being met at all.

I agree that the MOD practice is not helpful to effective governance but I must point out that this sort of [subjective] reporting is also common practice in many other organisations, not just the MOD.

For example, I have yet to meet a corporate reporting system that does not include significant scope for subjective opinion by the reporters.

Very often this coincides with the transposition/ aggregation of spreadsheet "data" into executive reports.

I do realise that objective data is not always available, particularly when reporting on so-called 'soft numbers' (such as intangible benefits).

Maybe we need reporting systems that differentiate clearly between objective [transactional] data and subjective [interpreted]opinion?