Management by objectives

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Management by objectives (MBO), also known as management by results (MBR), is a process of defining objectives within an organization so that management and employees agree to the objectives and understand what they need to do in the organization in order to achieve them. The term "management by objectives" was first popularized by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management.[1]

The essence of MBO is participative goal setting, choosing course of actions and decision making. An important part of the MBO is the measurement and the comparison of the employee’s actual performance with the standards set. Ideally, when employees themselves have been involved with the goal setting and choosing the course of action to be followed by them, they are more likely to fulfill their responsibilities.

According to George S. Odiorne, the system of management by objectives can be described as a process whereby the superior and subordinate jointly identify its common goals, define each individual's major areas of responsibility in terms of the results expected of him, and use these measures as guides for operating the unit and assessing the contribution of each of its members.[2]

Features and advantages[edit]

The principle of MBO is for employees to have a clear understanding of their roles and the responsibilities expected of them, so they can understand how their activities relate to the achievement of the organization's goals. MBO also places importance on fulfilling the personal goals of each employee.

Proponents argue that benefits of MBO include:

  1. Motivation – Involving employees in the whole process of goal setting and increasing employee empowerment. This increases employee job satisfaction and commitment.
  2. Better communication and coordination – Frequent reviews and interactions between superiors and subordinates help to maintain harmonious relationships within the organization and also to solve problems.
  3. Clarity of goals
  4. Subordinates tend to have a higher commitment to objectives they set for themselves than those imposed on them by another person.
  5. Managers can ensure that objectives of the subordinates are linked to the organization's objectives.
  6. Common goal for whole organization means it is a unifying, directive principle of management.

Application in practice[edit]

Objectives can be set in all domains of activities, such as production, marketing, services, sales, R&D, human resources, finance, and information systems. Some objectives are collective, for a whole department or the whole company, while others can be individualised.

In the MBO paradigm, managers determine the mission and the strategic goals of the enterprise. The goals set by top-level managers are based on an analysis of what can and should be accomplished by the organisation within a specific period of time. The functions of these managers can be centralised by appointing a project manager who can monitor and control activities of the various departments. If this cannot be done or is not desirable, each manager's contributions to the organisational goal should be clearly spelled out.[citation needed]

Objectives need quantifying and monitoring. Reliable management information systems are needed to establish relevant objectives and monitor their "reach ratio" in an objective way.[citation needed] Pay incentives (bonuses) are often linked to results in reaching the objectives.

The mnemonic S.M.A.R.T. is associated with the process of setting objectives in this paradigm. "SMART" objectives are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed/Achievable/Attainable
  • Realistic/Responsible/Receivable
  • Time-bound

The aphorism "What gets measured gets done" is aligned with the MBO philosophy.

Arguments against[edit]

MBO has its detractors and attention notably among them W. Edwards Deming, who argued that a lack of understanding of systems commonly results in the misapplication of objectives.[3] Additionally, Deming stated that setting production targets will encourage workers to meet those targets through whatever means necessary, which usually results in poor quality.[4]

Point 7 of Deming's key principles encourages managers to abandon objectives in favour of leadership because he felt that a leader with an understanding of systems was more likely to guide workers to an appropriate solution than the incentive of an objective. Deming also pointed out that Drucker warned managers that a systemic view was required [5] and felt that Drucker's warning went largely unheeded by the practitioners of MBO.

There are several limitations to the assumptive base underlying the impact of managing by objectives,[citation needed] including:

  1. It over-emphasizes the setting of goals over the working of a plan as a driver of outcomes.
  2. It under-emphasizes the importance of the environment or context in which the goals are set.

That context includes everything from the availability and quality of resources, to relative buy-in by leadership and stake-holders. As an example of the influence of management buy-in as a contextual influencer, in a 1991 comprehensive review of thirty years of research on the impact of Management by Objectives, Robert Rodgers and John Hunter concluded that companies whose CEOs demonstrated high commitment to MBO showed, on average, a 56% gain in productivity. Companies with CEOs who showed low commitment only saw a 6% gain in productivity.[citation needed]

When this approach is not properly set, agreed and managed by organizations, self-centered employees might be prone to distort results, falsely representing achievement of targets that were set in a short-term, narrow fashion. In this case, managing by objectives would be counterproductive.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Drucker, Peter F., "The Practice of Management", in 1954. ISBN 0-06-011095-3
  2. ^ Odiorne, George S., "Management by Objectives; a System of Managerial Leadership", New York: Pitman Pub., 1965.
  3. ^ Deming, W. Edwards, "Out of the Crisis", The MIT Press, 1994, ISBN 0-262-54116-5
  4. ^ Deming’s 14 Points and Quality Project Leadership J. Alex Sherrer, March 3, 2010
  5. ^ Drucker, Peter, "Management Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices", Harper & Row, 1973