Management By Objectives

What Is Management By Objectives? The Management By Objectives In A Nutshell

Management by objectives was popularised by notable management consultant Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. Management by objectives (MBO) is a model used to improve organizational performance by defining objectives agreed upon by both management and employees.

DefinitionManagement By Objectives (MBO) is a systematic management approach that focuses on defining clear objectives and goals for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. It was developed by management theorist Peter Drucker in the 1950s. In MBO, managers and employees collaborate to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. The primary aim is to align individual and organizational goals and improve overall performance. MBO is often seen as a part of the broader performance management process.
Key PrinciplesGoal Setting: The core of MBO is setting well-defined objectives and goals that are aligned with the organization’s mission and strategic priorities.
Participative Process: MBO encourages active involvement from both managers and employees in setting and agreeing upon objectives. It promotes a sense of ownership and commitment.
Performance Evaluation: Regular assessments and feedback sessions are conducted to measure progress toward achieving objectives. Performance reviews are based on objective results.
Goal Alignment: Objectives are cascaded from the top down, ensuring that individual and team goals are aligned with the organization’s broader objectives.
Flexibility: MBO allows for adjustments to objectives as circumstances change or as new information becomes available.
Steps in MBODefine Organizational Objectives: Senior management defines the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives.
Cascade Objectives: Objectives are communicated and cascaded down through the organization, with each level of management setting its own specific objectives that align with higher-level goals.
Set Individual Objectives: Employees and their managers collaborate to set individual performance objectives. These objectives should be SMART.
Monitor Progress: Regular check-ins and performance evaluations are conducted to monitor progress toward achieving objectives.
Feedback and Review: Managers provide feedback and review performance against objectives. Adjustments can be made if necessary.
AdvantagesClarity and Focus: MBO provides clarity regarding goals and expectations, helping employees understand their roles and priorities.
Motivation: Setting challenging but achievable goals can motivate employees to perform at their best.
Alignment: MBO aligns individual and team efforts with the organization’s strategic direction.
Accountability: It establishes a clear framework for assessing individual and team accountability.
Continuous Improvement: Regular feedback and reviews enable continuous improvement in performance.
LimitationsTime-Consuming: Implementing MBO can be time-consuming due to the need for frequent check-ins and performance evaluations.
Overemphasis on Goals: Overly focusing on achieving objectives can lead to neglecting other important aspects of work, such as creativity and teamwork.
Resistance to Change: Employees may resist MBO if it is perceived as a top-down control mechanism rather than a collaborative process.
Potential for Rigidity: In dynamic environments, rigid adherence to predefined objectives may hinder adaptability.
Real-World ExampleA sales team in a software company might use MBO to set quarterly objectives for each salesperson, such as achieving a certain number of software licenses sold or reaching a specific revenue target. These objectives are aligned with the company’s annual revenue growth goals and are regularly reviewed to ensure progress.

Understanding management by objectives

The methodology suggests first defining organizational objectives management can convey to subordinates.

Both parties subsequently work together to determine how each objective will be achieved in a sequence.

Using this management system, individual goals are synchronized with organizational goals and a calm and productive work environment is created by leaders. 

Ultimately, the model suggests employees involved in goal setting and action plan formation are more likely to behave in ways that align with organizational objectives.

Better communication between the manager and the employee also increases motivation and buy-in.

Management by objectives in practice

There are five generally accepted steps to management by objectives:

Define organizational goals

These must be realistic, achievable, and well defined.

Setting one to three organizational goals that can be achieved in the long-term is most effective.

Define employee objectives

In other words, the measurable steps the employee must take to achieve organizational goals.

Managers must work with subordinates on an individual basis to establish goals they can realistically achieve using the available resources.

Each employee must also be willing to participate in the process.

Monitor progress and performance

Consider tracking sheets to monitor progress and periodic team meetings to recognize incremental achievements or tackle challenges.

Evaluate performance and provide feedback

Managers must then return to the measurable steps defined in the second phase to evaluate employee performance.

Extra guidance should be provided if performance is below par.

Positive feedback should also be given at every opportunity to maintain motivation and productivity.

Performance appraisal

This involves the work of each employee being assessed over the life of the project.

Appraisals highlight where an individual excelled and where there is still room for growth.

Used correctly, these reviews can be an important driver of personal and professional growth.

Make your goals S.M.A.R.T.

A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.

Within management by objectives, the SMART Goals framework can help make sure these goals are:

This is precisely what management by objectives tries to achieve, with a core difference, as the SMART goals framework helps you check these goals with reality.

In short, management by objectives is a great methodology.

However, it might lead to a few issues, such as vagueness and unattainability.

Thus integrating a few steps process like SMART Goals when defining management by objectives plan might help make it even more effective.

Management by objectives Vs. OKRs

Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

OKR is the goal-setting method that was popularized by VC John Doerr, and it was created by Andy Grove, as he managed Intel.

OKR is based on four key tenets:

While management by objectives and OKR both are:

  • Ambitious.
  • Qualitative.
  • Time-bound.
  • Actionable by the team.

OKRs, though, have some key features which make them a good fit for startups:

  • Measurable and quantifiable.
  • Make the objective achievable.
  • Lead to objective grading.
  • Difficult but not impossible.

The OKR Cycle follows these steps:

  • Brainstorm.
  • Communicate.
  • Share.
  • Track.
  • Reflect.

And below are the primary differences between management by objectives and OKRs:


OKR has proven quite effective for startups, as it sets ambitious (yet achievable) goals while ensuring the whole team is aligned around them.

Management by objectives examples

To get a better sense of management by objectives, we have listed some key organizational objectives below by department.

Company performance

  • Become a member of the Fortune 500 group of companies.
  • Increase asset to debt ratio by 10%.
  • Achieve a payback period of 18 months for new products.


  • Increase marketing ROI by 9.5%.
  • Increase landing page conversion rates by 26%.
  • Implement continuous A/B testing of landing pages.

Human resources

  • Maintain a quarterly retention rate of 95%.
  • Hold a minimum of two interviews for new hires.
  • Assign at least a third of all managerial positions to internal applicants.

Product management

  • Maintain an 85% customer satisfaction (CSAT) score.
  • Meet with at least five high-value clients to gauge product feedback.
  • Analyze the product strategies of three direct competitors.

Customer success

  • Decrease the number of customer support tickets during onboarding by 40%.
  • Decrease customer churn rate by 20%.
  • Maintain a detailed profile for each premium client.

Key takeaways

  • Management by objectives is a model used to improve organizational performance by defining objectives agreed upon by both management and employees. It was developed by notable management consultant Peter Drucker in 1954.
  • Management by objectives suggests employees involved in goal setting and action plan formation are more likely to behave in ways that align with organizational objectives. This also fosters better communication and relationships between managers and subordinates.
  • Management by objectives can be described by five general steps: define organizational goals, define employee objectives, monitor progress and performance, evaluate performance and provide feedback, and performance appraisal.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction to MBO: MBO was popularized by management consultant Peter Drucker in his book “The Practice of Management” (1954). It’s a model for improving organizational performance by setting objectives agreed upon by both management and employees.
  • Understanding MBO: MBO involves defining organizational objectives that are conveyed to subordinates. Management and employees collaborate to determine how to achieve these objectives in a sequence. This alignment between individual and organizational goals creates a productive work environment.
  • Benefits of MBO: Employees involved in goal setting and action plan formation are more likely to align their behavior with organizational objectives. Communication between managers and employees improves, leading to increased motivation and buy-in.
  • Five Steps of MBO:
    1. Define Organizational Goals: Set realistic, achievable, and well-defined long-term goals.
    2. Define Employee Objectives: Determine measurable steps employees must take to achieve organizational goals. Collaborate to establish achievable goals.
    3. Monitor Progress: Track progress using tracking sheets and recognize achievements in team meetings.
    4. Evaluate Performance: Evaluate employee performance based on defined objectives and provide feedback.
    5. Performance Appraisal: Assess employee work over the project’s life, highlighting achievements and growth areas.
  • Making Goals SMART: MBO benefits from using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) goals, ensuring clear and trackable objectives.
  • Comparison with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results): OKRs, introduced by Andy Grove and popularized by John Doerr, share similarities with MBO in terms of ambition and time-bound objectives. However, OKRs also emphasize measurement and quantifiability.
  • OKR Cycle: OKRs follow these steps: brainstorm, communicate, share, track, and reflect.
  • Primary Differences Between MBO and OKRs: OKRs are more suited for startups, as they are measurable, lead to objective grading, and are difficult but achievable.
  • Examples of MBO by Department:
    • Company Performance: Join Fortune 500, increase asset to debt ratio, achieve 18-month payback period.
    • Marketing: Increase marketing ROI, improve landing page conversion rates, implement A/B testing.
    • Human Resources: Maintain retention rate, conduct interviews for new hires, promote from within.
    • Product Management: Maintain customer satisfaction score, gather feedback from clients, analyze competitors.
    • Customer Success: Decrease support tickets during onboarding, reduce customer churn, maintain profiles for premium clients.
  • Key Takeaways: MBO is a model that aligns individual and organizational goals, resulting in improved performance and better communication. It involves defining objectives, monitoring progress, evaluating performance, and using SMART goals. OKRs, a similar concept, emphasize measurement and quantifiable results.

Case Studies

Business ContextDescriptionApplication of Management by Objectives (MBO)Examples and Impact
Sales and MarketingSetting sales targets and marketing goals.Establishing specific sales revenue targets, market share objectives, and marketing campaign metrics. Aligning individual and team efforts with revenue and growth targets.A sales team may use MBO to set quarterly sales goals, while marketing teams can use it to measure the success of advertising campaigns.
Employee PerformanceManaging and evaluating employee performance.Defining individual performance objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), and evaluation criteria. Regular performance reviews and feedback sessions based on agreed-upon goals.Managers use MBO to clarify expectations, track progress, and provide feedback to employees, enhancing overall performance and career development.
Project ManagementPlanning and executing projects efficiently.Defining project objectives, milestones, and deliverables. Monitoring project progress against predefined objectives and adjusting plans as needed.Project managers use MBO to ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and according to specified quality standards.
Strategic PlanningAligning organizational goals and strategies.Establishing long-term objectives, performance metrics, and milestones to track progress toward strategic goals. Ensuring that all departments and teams contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives.MBO is used to cascade strategic goals throughout the organization, ensuring that everyone understands their role in achieving the company’s vision.
Supply Chain ManagementOptimizing supply chain operations.Setting supply chain efficiency and cost reduction objectives. Measuring and improving performance through metrics such as lead times, inventory turnover, and on-time deliveries.MBO helps supply chain managers improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction by setting and tracking performance objectives.
Quality ControlEnsuring product and service quality.Establishing quality objectives, defect reduction targets, and customer satisfaction metrics. Continuously monitoring and improving processes to meet quality standards.Quality control teams use MBO to drive process improvement and ensure consistent product or service quality, reducing defects and customer complaints.
Human ResourcesManaging HR functions and employee development.Setting HR department goals for recruitment, training, retention, and employee engagement. Evaluating HR performance based on agreed-upon metrics and objectives.MBO in HR helps organizations attract and retain talent, enhance employee skills, and create a positive workplace culture.
Customer ServiceImproving customer service and satisfaction.Defining service quality benchmarks, response times, and customer feedback targets. Monitoring and enhancing customer service performance to meet or exceed objectives.Customer service teams use MBO to deliver superior customer experiences, resolve issues promptly, and maintain high customer satisfaction levels.

Other Goal-Setting Frameworks


Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”


A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.

Balanced Scorecard

First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.


Businesses use backcasting to plan for a desired future by determining the steps required to achieve that future. Backcasting is the opposite of forecasting, where a business sets future goals and works toward them by maintaining the status quo.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

Lightning Decision Jam

The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

OGSM Framework

The OGSM framework is a means of creating a well-structured and actionable marketing strategy. Fundamentally, the OGSM framework allows businesses to first define what they want to achieve and then determine how they will get there. To provide direction for marketing teams, the acronym of OGSM (objectives, goals, strategies, measures) should be followed in sequential order. Here is a look at each in more detail.

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

Personal Mission Statement

A personal mission statement clarifies what is important in life to an individual. A personal mission statement is a written statement of purpose that allows individuals to define their calling in life. It helps clarify goals, values, beliefs, or passions, communicate them, and better execute a personal growth strategy.

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