Friday 20 January 2012

Do Management by Objectives (MBO) and SMART goals work for our personal lives?

I am getting philosophical recently… OK, it’s probably I have too much time on my hands? But what else can a Man of Leisure do besides play and mind fish with himself?


In corporate life, this is one of the most helpful management tool popularized by Peter Drucker – the father of modern management.

It provides a measurable yardstick to measure the performance of workers and managers, and in Singapore, our Ministers too!
Now it’s more fashionable to call them KPIs (Key performance indicators). A rose by any other name is still a rose.

SMART goals

Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely. Yup, these are the kind of goals we give ourselves or were thrust upon us in corporate life to make us jump through hoops!

Skill in goal setting

This puts a tremendous onus to ensure the goals we are pursuing “makes sense”.

Let’s take the recent Ministers pay revision. In the past, it was single-mindedness focus on GDP growth. Now we are “twicking” it to make it more palatable to the masses.
So was the focus on GDP “wrong”?

Sometimes I wonder why we complicate things and love to re-invent the wheel. Let’s look at our Singapore’s pledge:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

Focus on GDP is prosperity and progress – ticked off. We just need to add a happiness index? Of course to be happy, we need united, democracy, justice, and equality as the building blocks first?

I wonder do we have all the former qualities and only lacking progress and prosperity; or do we only have progress and prosperity and nothing else?

Single-mindedness focus good – but with blinkers on

MBO, KPI, SMART goals are used by hired hands to judge and measure other hired hands.

It’s great to move the whole organisation in the same direction towards a common goal.

However, that would mean any initiatives or opportunities that do not “fit” into our 5 year business plans or our KPIs will be tossed aside. Be honest. Would you waste your time on a task that does not help you in achieving your year-end bonus KPIs?

Kodak’s recent bankruptcy is a good case for reflection. It’s a “blue-chip” company too! As a shareholder, how would you measure the companies you have investments in? What KPIs would you set for the management?

And if you are a business owner, you probably must be lying awake thinking how many money making opportunities your professional managers are throwing away all because it’s not part of their KPIs…

Perhaps that’s why entrepreneur CEOs like Richard Branson of Virgin and Li Ka Shing of Hutchison Whampoa behave differently from professional CEOs.

When they see a business opportunity, they dive right in! Never mind it’s a totally different industry! If it makes money, they invest more. If it lose money, they pull out.

I wonder how many of Richard Branson and Li Ka Shing’s management team will dare tell them that they should stick within their core-competencies and not spread themselves too thin?

If we ask Richard Branson and Li Ka Shing did they “plan” their achievements, they would probably have laughed.

I am so glad to have worked in IKEA. To me, IKEA is one of the most successful companies in adopting Management by Stumbling Along (I think the management will disagree with me). 

Without it, I would not have this insight.

Life goals

With the realisation of the limitations of KPIs, MBO, and SMART goals, now why would I “limit” my life with such goals? I already had enough of them in my former corporate life. Bring work home? You must be kidding!

No New Year resolutions; no life goals. I am just happy to flow with the wind.

And maybe one day as I walked towards the Western Paradise and passes by the Gates of St Peter, St Paul would invite me in for tea? I guess he would not mind me being a heathen. 

Flow with the wind is perhaps euphemism for in God we trust. Wink.


  1. First of all, I am completely jealous. You don't look that old from your picture to be a man of leisure. I work too hard at two jobs, I'd be happy with a week or two of leisure!

  2. Thanks! Although I am now undergoing my male menopause, I must say I am always young at heart ;)

    From a ex-salesperson to a fellow salesperson, I wouldn't go round saying what you've just said...

    Least of all, to think I am driving a Hyundai trying to sell a Mercedes ;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...