Is MBO dead? Or just the most useful management tool?

Management-by-Objectives (MBO).  All the trendy people say it’s old-hat, fuddy-duddy, a decades-old fad, and just downright useless.  Deming even said it was dangerous.

Deming said a lot of really smart things, but he was a human, too.  And one with a perspective that was limited, as all perspectives are.

I understand MBO to have become what quality is now in well-run organizations: a practice that’s now so much a part of the way that they run, so woven into the day-by-day workings of the place, that it seems invisible, although it’s really a fundamental part of the success of the enterprise.

I was taught (by George Odiorne, one of its best-known proponents) that MBO is really a three-part process.  1) The manager and the subordinate negotiate and jointly agree on an  objective that the subordinate is to achieve, 2) the manager and the subordinate negotiate and jointly agree what resources the manager must provide to the subordinate in order for him/her to do so, and 3) both agree as to the measurement criteria (including intermediate measurements) that will determine if the objective has been achieved.

This is elegant, simple, humanistic, effective, and workable.  It works for managing tasks as mundane as simple daily ones to long-term strategic endeavors.  And really, can you think of any better way to manage people in order to achieve measurable results (which are the only kind that actually exist)?  Can you think of any high-performance organization where this is not practiced in one form or another (and perhaps overlapping with other approaches)?

The answer seems obvious.

Ralph

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