In theory: Management by objectives

Managers the world over will recognise the name of Peter Drucker, the man billed as the greatest management thinker of the 20th century. He is credited with creating the professional discipline of management, and his 1954 book The Practice of Management is its founding treatise.

In it, Drucker decrees that every organisation's raison d'etre should be first and foremost to serve its customers. Yes, making a profit is important, but only as a condition of survival. His book is also famous for providing a blueprint for management strategy called 'management by objectives'. If this doesn't sound particularly revolutionary to you, then that's proof of how deeply Drucker's ideas have been absorbed into everyday work.

Management by objectives means ensuring that the objectives you set are 'cascaded' down, via other managers, to everybody in the workplace. So if one of your goals as a charity is to gain greater media exposure, make sure that every man and woman on the ground knows this and understands how their efforts fit into the bigger picture.

Drucker also said decision-making at an organisational level should be a participative affair, involving goals for each worker that managers should then measure and monitor.

Managers should assess quantifiable individual objectives for their compatibility with a charity's mission and resources, asking the vital question: is this doable or impossible?

The management by objectives system is revered by many, and valued for creating measurable data that enables organisational progress to be monitored. For a charity, it can bring a high level of professionalism and a reassurance that everybody knows what they are working towards.

Just don't get too bogged down in the bureaucracy of management by objectives, or you'll find your best workers leaving for other far more disorganised but much freer and more fun places to work. And that's not good management.

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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