Target Trade-Offs and Numeric Goals

Target Trade-Offs and Numeric Goals

safety targetsWe learn recently that Victorian Police – a supposed institution of trust, has fabricated numbers over the past 5 years  in order to meet targets. It is reported today that Victoria Police have fabricated 258,000 breath tests in order to meet targets. How is this relevant for safety?

I hear all the time in safety language this urgency and anxiety about the need to set low-order targets and devalue higher-order goals. The delusion that low-order targets and goals are necessary is a characteristic of the safety industry. It’s a measure of its immaturity. The fixation on low-order goals by Safety is a direct result from the mis-education of the WHS curriculum in pyramids, Heinrich, Bird and Bradley Curve ( ). With no critical thinking mechanism in the WHS curriculum Safety is the sucker for lower-order goals thinking ( ).

Lower-order goals are numeric measurable goals. All lower-order goal thinking trades off against higher-order goal thinking. In this way the Victoria Police could trade off integrity (a high-order goal) for numbers. It’s about time we threw out the nonsense aphorism ‘what can’t be measured can’t be managed’. It’s about time safety understood ‘not everything that can be counted counts and, not everything that counts can be counted’( ).

When we undertake education programs in risk leadership at CLLR we always introduce the need to consider the psychology of goals and how goals compete. All leaders need to be aware just how much goals compete but apparently this is not the case in the Victorian Police. When Safety insists on the focus on low-order goals it practices similar non-leadership. The model for understanding goals setting is at Figure One. Goal States.

Every time we set a lower-goal it competes against the demands of higher-order goals. There is no neutral goal setting. If you set a numerical target and the language for zero in your organization there must be a social-psychological trade off (see Figure Two. The Goal Trade-Off Dynamic).

It’s hard to envision risk in higher-order thinking when you set your sights on numerics and metrics. The LTI and TRIFR addiction is an illness in the safety industry that creates the delusion that everything is safe. It’s an attribution that has no value and is not a practice of Due Diligence.

4. DUE DILIGENCE from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

There is nothing professional about counting, numeric and metrics indeed, such a fixation demonstrates a lack of professionalism. The idea of setting the values of an organization in numeric is simply a measurement of insanity.

Figure One. Goal States.


Figure Two. The Goal Trade-Off Dynamic


All real leaders know that organizations thrive in higher-order goals setting, you can have all the numbers you like but culture is set by levels of: trust, respect, listening, relationships, care and hope. Leaders know that any value can be attributed to a number but that any number cannot be attributed to a value.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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