I’ve worked with MBOs a.k.a. Management By Objectives on and off at a variety of places. Your manager (and presumably their manager) define a set of quantifiable (S.M.A.R.T.) objectives for you to hit in the coming quarter. Then you review them at the end of the quarter. Easy, right?

I must be treating these things wrong. I look at objectives and tend to evaluate them against my current priorities and the current priorities of the company/customer. These priorities tend to change from day to day. So, being an independent minded type, I tend to look at the list and edit as appropriate: this objective is relevant, this one isn’t, and so on. Then comes the review at the end of the quarter and the inevitable question, “Why didn’t you hit objective X?”

Now, admittedly, I might just suck. Or I might have judged a month(s) old objective to be low priority compared to more immediate needs. Now I suppose there are a variety of ways to handle this:

  1. Update and evaluate objectives with greater frequency
  2. Request/Update MBO’s over time
  3. Use another mechanism

You see, what I really want is a higher feedback mechanism that is a bit more relevant to my day to day work. Goals from 6 months ago, even 3 months ago, are seldom relevant. In customer terms, if I even wait as long as two weeks, I’ve very likely lost them already.

So what is the alternative? Honestly, to date in my professional life, short of outright neglect, I haven’t seen any decent ones. Maybe it’s one of those “sound of one hand clapping” Japanese koans: What’s the alternative to MBO’s?

4 Responses to MBO RIP

  1. elliotross says:

    Nicely said – however IMHO- objectives that specific & narrow are useless.

    I quote one example;

    Pop on over to Bill Flagg of RegOnline for an example of clear and explicit corporate goals.

    Marketing: #1 on Google for 3 new keywords

    Support: 100 unsolicited “WOW” remarks from clients about our level of service

    Sales: increase our conversion rate off of live demos by 20%

    Development: reduce the number of reported bugs by 30%

    Accounting: reduce the number of billing-related support calls by 20%

    HR: produce a recruitment video

    Full post was here ! http://wp.me/paqed-qU


  2. Tom Perry says:

    I agree. Specific and narrow doesn’t give us much. It occurs to me that MB0’s really do cater to the lowest common denominator. They strike me as a crude tool that is used to try and lead a group that one has relatively little control over. A group where the quality of performance may vary wildly. MBO’s might apply to people who are baseline, just doing the job performers. They might even apply in some simplistic way to relatively high achievers. But for the people in the business who are the potential game changers – the people capable of really innovating, MBO’s almost serve to stifle. I would suggest that MBO’s might seem kind of meaningless to these kinds of people. And I think these people are sprinkled throughout the organization – not just at the top.
    Maybe it’s the difference between an innovating organization and a maintenance organization (if that makes any sense).

    Thanks for the thoughts,

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