POLITICS: MACHIAVELLI RETURNS FOR THE SUMMER WITH HIS BLUFFERS GUIDE TO MANAGING THE NHS

Supplicants have raised concerns with me about the mechanisms they can utilise to ensure their performance bonus is paid at a satisfactory level.

These payments, of course, bear no relation whatsoever to performance, good or bad. In the private sector, one can easily set a sales or percentage margin target which is either achieved or not. In the NHS, things - as usual - are not so simple. Neither does the actual mechanism matter one jot. You may have an old-fashioned performance-related pay scheme or one of those new-fangled performance fund systems. Either way, the processes are arcane in the extreme.

The reason for this is simple: there are 400odd 'achievables' in the NHS plan; no one can possibly achieve them all, or at least those that apply to their specific area of work.

If they could, virtually every trust - in London anyway - wouldn't be bleating about their inability to meet all targets and the dreaded word 'challenging'wouldn't appear in every senior job advert. The plan is not, therefore, a mechanism for raising performance. It is instead our old friend - a system for removing uncomfortable trust chairs and directors. That this will sometimes mean an immediate improvement in performance is merely incidental.

Your principal objective is to be part of a performance-related scheme but not to have any targets set, not at least in the year to which they apply. How do you do this? I speak from long and successful experience. Your senior manager - let's say it is the chief executive - may set targets for you, but is unlikely to do so without at least the pretence of consultation.

This will require a meeting. do not go to it. A migraine is a useful management tool. Your boss will probably have 10 to 20 sets of targets to draft; if you manage to miss a meeting this should result in at least a month's delay while the diary is realigned.Yours, of course, will be choc-a-bloc.

If more than three subordinates go missing, the whole process will start to creak. It should be possible to miss two such meetings, or even three at a pinch. That should get you well into the year in question. Every day won now is worth money.

If you have a lazy boss who asks you to draft your objectives yourself, just do not do it.

do not react to a verbal request - ask for a memo outlining the context in which the objectives will operate. If it turns up, ignore it.

You can say it was never delivered. If it is sent by the hateful process of e-mail, where receipt can be proven, then delete it together with half a dozen or so harmless others and phone IT to say you think You have got a virus. When the techies fail to find it, just ask them if it is one of those new self-deleting versions.

By now, you should be halfway through the year. Your boss, assuming they have remembered you still need objectives, will be in the nasty brown stuff already. If you absolutely can't avoid discussing the matter further, go to the meeting and find fault with several minor areas.

If you can implicate the human resources director in finalising any of them, so much the better. Everything can be linked to the problem of nurse recruitment, which will not be your fault: It is all to do with demographics, and even you can't be blamed for that.

Towards the end of the year, the tables will be turning. The chief executive will realise that your failure to have had objectives set is his fault.

You can't possibly deliver a whole year's improvement agenda in three months, and he will not risk an industrial tribunal over your loss of income through his error. This is the time to strike: get helpful - suggest you could now prepare a set of objectives based on what they would have been nine months earlier.

You'll need a few weeks (months) to prepare them, of course. Then you strike. On 1 April, you produce a wonderful set of meaningless twaddle which is all to do with process rather than outcomes. Needless to say, you will have achieved them all, or virtually all. do not get over-confident: put in one or two minor points which you haven't achieved. True, this will mean you only get a 90 per cent rating instead of the full monty, but no one ever gets the full amount anyway.

Then sit back and wait for the cheque - and do not forget my commission.