John Tatam, director of corporate strategy at Barking & Dagenham LBC, said the problem with externally imposed targets is that they often fail to reflect what success means for council staff.
Mr Tatam was discussing the impact on Barking & Dagenham of the balanced scorecard performance regime he helped introduce a few years ago, which encompasses all council objectives under a single rubric.
He said it had created genuine enthusiasm among staff because they can now appreciate the part they play in wider corporate objectives.
But he said Birmingham's practice of allowing staff scope to set their own objectives had been well received.
The conference was sponsored by Inphase Software, Corvu and management consultants GCL.