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Setting your Aim 

Now that you have defined your problem and found your partners you will need to decide what you want to achieve - the aim (PARTNERS)

How to set a clear aim and the choices you have available are dealt with fully in this article but, firstly, I feel compelled to make the following point.

I spend a lot of my time visiting problems and speaking to people. Most of the people I meet have a commendable work ethic but are really stressed. This can sometimes be caused by the pressure to act immediately to resolve a problem, normally from single issue pressure groups or the media.

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This pressure can sometimes prompt an unrealistic target being made, something like, “this problem will never happen again”. Unfortunately, this target can be made without an appreciation of the very nature of the problem and the circumstances that led to it happening in the first place. This then creates additional problems such as raising the expectations of others, which realistically cannot be achieved. As a result, I have developed something almost like a mantra, which needs to be recited every time you are presented with a problem.

Point 1: Just because someone tells you it is a problem does not necessarily make it so.

Point 2: Just because someone has chosen to tell you, it does not mean you have to do something about it.

Point 3: Just because you are the lead, does not mean that you have to do something immediately.

What is it you want to achieve?

There is going to be a need to set a clear aim and there is a widely known mnemonic called SMART to act as a guide. However, just because it is widely known does not mean that it is widely used. There are many variations of SMART and here is the one I prefer.

S – Specific. Make sure the aim “hits the nail on the head.” For example, a Police Force may set an aim to reduce false alarms by an exact percentage.

M – Measurable. Make sure that you know whether you’ve achieved your aim. Decide on effective ways to measure success. For example, you could measure the number of people satisfied with the way they were treated.

A – Achievable. This is to make sure that you set a realistic target. This target will be influenced by the time scale, the resources and expertise available. Later in this article we will look at choices that are available to ensure your aim is achievable, described as the Impact Scale.

R – Relevant. Does your Aim or Objective work towards meeting your targets or your overall strategy?

T - Time-framed. Set realistic timescales for completion of your plan and for regular monitoring along the way. It will need an end date and not just something like six months, because when you read it at a later date it will still read “six months”. It is far better to set an actual date, including the day, such as 31 March 2015.

Mistakes people make when setting their aim.

There are mistakes that can occur when setting an aim. Here are some of the most common ones I have found.

Recording an action into the aim.

All too frequently people include an action within the aim. For example, “We need to increase bookings of our training courses by 10% by a set date by undertaking additional mail shots.” The aim should be “To increase the bookings by 10% by the set date.” and not include the action regarding the mail shots. Even though the action is valid as a method, it is just one of a number of actions that could be done to increase bookings and, if just one action is included in the aim, then it could exclude all the other choices, for example, speaking at Conferences.

Making the aim too broad.

Sometimes people set an aim which is too vague. This means either the real problem is not worked on or resources are spread too thinly. This is best described in the expression, “if you defend everything you defend nothing.” It is therefore better to be more specific and have recognised stages with specific partners, than to move without clear direction.

No end date

This is when the aim is written but has no end date. This means the initiative could just keep going without a time when it is looked at to decide whether to change the actions, or to end them.

Impact Scale

We have just looked at one part of the SMART aim which states that the aim must be achievable. The difficulty is deciding on what is really achievable. You may not get help from those making the demand, as they invariably want the problem to go completely. Fortunately, something has been devised called the Impact Scale. It is based on an idea by Professor John Eck and is used here with his kind permission*.

*Source: John Eck and William Spelman (1987) Problem-Solving: Problem Oriented Policing in Newport News. Washington DC: Police Executive Research Forum).

This gives you five clear options when setting an achievable aim.

  1. Eliminate the problem
  2. Reduce the problem by degrees
  3. Reduce the seriousness of the problem
  4. Deal with the problem more efficiently
  5. Persuade another to take the lead

Realising your opportunities.

I have been relying on the Impact Scale when setting an aim for years. Recently though, I have been working on a number of projects and initiatives where the Impact Scale is not suitable. This is because the Impact Scale is focused on managing an existing negative situation, yet these recent projects are seeking a more positive outcome. As a result, I created a set of choices similar to the Impact Scale but with a far more optimistic outcome. Therefore, to emphasise a more progressive theme, I have given it the title of ‘Realising Opportunities’. Here are some more options to choose from when setting an aim.

  • Create something new
  • Increase your capacity
  • Increase your flexibility
  • Improve your efficiency
  • Mainstream

If you match them side by side with the Impact Scale, you can see, with the exception of improving efficiency, they are the opposite position.

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Updated February 2015