Does management by objectives work or not?

Management by objectives: the only way to achieve results? Before choosing your team performance management framework, ask yourself what your goal is and what you want to achieve or instill as a company culture.

Management by objectives: the only way to achieve results?

This is the subject of an eternal debate that can be summed up in one question: how to achieve performance? Should we manage by objectives, i.e. based on results, or manage by behaviors, i.e. based on means? In some companies, the end result outweighs the means taken to achieve it. In others, there is a strong belief that results will be achieved if the right behaviors are followed. So what do we know?

Management by objectives: yes, it works!

I have to agree with all the aficionados of management by objectives, because, yes, it works! By understanding how they work, we will be able to nuance and choose the cases in which to apply management by objectives (also known as MBO: Management By Objectives).

A goal dissipates distractions and provides short-term motivation to work harder and longer. It therefore supports a superior performance through the motivation to achieve it. For example, I can set a goal to write this article by noon. I create a chronobiological deadline, I have a deliverable and a clear deadline. To achieve it, my brain must focus on this single task, I must forget everything else. Will I make it? By focusing on this task, I’m going to give myself the chance to get it done. Without a goal, I have little chance of reaching it, since my brain will think of other things, and therefore make me act on other actions.

Another goal might be to sell two products or service contracts, or to follow up on five customer requests. It’s clear and I know what I have to achieve to reach my goal by noon.

A chosen or imposed objective?

One goal focuses attention. When I focus on my goal, it reduces my creativity because I am in “execute, deliver, achieve” mode. If I set the goal, I know how I’m going to achieve it. On the other hand, if someone has imposed it on me, I may need to think about how to achieve it: to think about the process, to set up a strategy, as well as different actions that require creativity and are therefore not compatible with a restricted attention.

Also, I remind you that one of the keys to the SMART goal is that it is Attractive, i.e. that I like it, that I want to achieve it.

If you ask a child to clean her room in 15 minutes, she can probably do it, but finishing her homework in 15 minutes is another matter. The pressure of the goal erases all the creativity required to solve problems.

An imposed goal can generate deviant behaviors: I do everything to reach it, including actions that are not desired and, in a way, I chase rat tails.

Management by objectives works in only two situations

Here are the two situations: repetitive tasks (or tasks requiring little or no creativity) with very concrete and down-to-earth deliverables. We can then use SMART objectives, quantified and especially shared. This is the point performance that is used in this case. For example: iron the laundry in 1 hour or make 5 follow-up calls in the next hour.

To improve overall performance, and therefore competencies, management by objectives works when the objectives are linked to development, and therefore to the means, and not to the result. Goals should be based on the behavior that will support the achievement of mastery. For example: take 5 minutes before each task to remind myself of the objective of my task.

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