Management Targets Result in the World’s Largest Stag Party

The target

Since 1978 China has had a One Child Policy.  The aim of the policy is to reduce population growth in the country.  The theory is that this will curtail demand for natural resources and so enable economic development.  Adherence to the target is managed by stringent financial penalties for those parents who’d like more than one child.

The upside

This target setting has, in some ways, been successful.  The population of China is now thought to be some 3 to 400 million lower than it would have been without the policy (about a 25% reduction), the jury is out on the implications for economic growth.

The downside

There have, however, been some unintended consequences:

  • Little Emperor Syndrome: spoilt children who lack social skills
  • Adopted and orphaned children
  • Infanticide

The official birth rate ratio in China in the year 2,000 (male to female) was 117:100, compared with a normal expectation of 105:100.  This is all the more startling because the one child policy only applies to about 40% of the population.

There are something like 30 million Chinese men looking for a wife, one big stag party.

A rather extreme demonstration of the effects of target setting.

Target driven behaviour

Given a target to hit, (particularly a hard or unpleasant one with a financial incentive attached), many people will cheat, expending energy on ways to beat the system rather than looking for ways to improve their performance.

Managers cheat every bit as much as employees, though usually in more subtle ways, which makes it more difficult to spot.

Measuring performance and coaching people to improve is one thing, dictating a target and walking away is something totally different.  It is the difference between leadership and abdication.

Worth thinking about when you set your next sales rate target.

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Impact of One Child Policy

Image by Dave Watts



  1. Whilst I agree with the main point that targets are what drives performance and you need to be careful about what you wish for. Is it fair to use the same argument for what is really a law rather than a target. And wasn’t it successful? It significantly reduced the population of china which was the whole point

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