MBO RIP

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?

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