The Coronavirus pandemic is changing the workplace, temporarily or possibly even permanently. Many of us work remotely — some of us are used to it; others are undergoing more-or-less training on the job as to how to be effective in our new home-office environment. It sounds like old “management by objectives” may become the state-of-the-art way to run distributed teams.
In the pre-corona world, management would keep a sharp eye on their employees to make sure that no time is wasted on water cooler discussions or playing computer games. Actual eye-to-eye contact on various levels of the organizational hierarchy used to be essential. However, when teams work from home and have no direct visual contact with each other, the traditional oversight is not possible anymore. Nor is it possible to have a casual chat with the colleagues when a team member is having a problem but feels embarrassed to ask for help. Sometimes having a quick informal talk in the break room energizes resolving issues. An elevator can be surprisingly beneficial.
A somewhat totalitarian resolution would be to establish a “big brother” approach, that is to say a permanent web camera, key loggers, AI tracking tools, and high-frequency “feedback” meetings. There would be no privacy anymore – a “naked employee.” In some countries, such an approach would seem acceptable, while it others it would be out of the question. I believe that such an invasive procedure would inflict short- and long-term harm to an organization. There must be a better way.
Dozens of management fads (see LINK) bear a promise of “silver bullet – quick solution to such (and similar) organizational problems. One of these ideas, “management by objectives” (MBO), seems to be applicable to distributed teams. After all, everyone in an organization is (or, at least, should be) pursuing a consistent set of project goals. Instead of mere oversight, an “inner leadership” for each person looks like a good plan. Unfortunately, similarly to other initially well-intended management past approaches, MBO has suffered from abuse, misuse, and “hype-ization.”
Thus, the new “MBO” must not be the traditional, inefficient management-by-objectives approach that has earned so much criticism over the past decades. In modern organizations, the objectives keep changing rapidly. It is practically impossible to have a meaningful MBO strategy using yearly feedback management reviews. Therefore, The old MBO is too static and way too slow.
It is essential to managed goals swiftly and agile on all levels is required in a world of working-from-home environment. Let us call it an “MBO+.” I am fully aware that it could turn out to be yet another management fad. To me, however, it feels such an MBO+ could, for once, turn out to be working.