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MBO or PMF, It’s easy to screw up in Safety management.

June 30, 2013

In the following article I have raised the subject of Management by Objectives (MBO) and Programme or Management Failures (PMF). We often see MBO stated as a key driver to achieve potential benefits in all aspects of management, and in particular in today’s quest to improve adherence to safety standards and processes.

Health and Safety practitioners have often been attracted by the reputed benefits of MBO and the part they play in increasing compliance, improved planning, there use as key performance indicators, improved employee morale, and the development of company culture. Yet many organisations are still not seeing major safety improvements despite setting up a stream of objectives to manage their overall corporate risk.

In order that an organisation can realise business added value from an investment in change management process they need to select the right MBO programme. If safety objectives are chosen purely as a gimmick or promotion of some safety incident reduction scheme, it is more likely to fail. Establishing your MBO must be for the right reasons, it needs to be embedded effectively and efficiently, to have positive outputs.

For MBO to be effective and sustainable in any organisation there has to be total commitment given by the board members, and other key stakeholders. Furthermore, the organisation must be prepared to commit the resources and time to implement MBO. If the organisation fails to implement the changes effectively, the potential benefits are not realised, and the only outcomes you will see will be PMF.

What is an Objective?

An objective is defined in various different ways however from a health and safety management aspect I believe the following is most appropriate; “A specific result that a person or organisation aims to achieve within a specified time frame and with allocated resources” in addition we also take into consideration “SMART” which is a common approach adopted by many organisations:

Specific: The objective must not be too broad, avoid too many multiple tasks to achieve and make sure it’s understood by all stakeholders.

Measurable: Self explanatory – you must be able to measure success against the objective.

Achievable: It must be possible to achieve the objective.

Relevant: The objective must compliment over objectives and the company strategy, and be relevant to the person/department the objective is being set.

Time-based: Have a specific date as to then the objective must be met. Don’t leave objectives open-ended.

In management terms, objectives are specific and easier to measure than goals, supporting planning and strategic activities of the organisation. They can also serve as the foundation for policy creation and evaluation of performance levels. If you follow the basic SMART principal you are unlikely to fail in delivering your MBO programme.

Programme or Management Failures with Safety Objectives

There are numerous reasons encountered in MBO programmes that can cause them to fail which include: lack of organizational commitment and support, lack of research and planning, lack of defined prerequisites to implementation, failure to integrate individual and organizational goals, and an overemphasis on attainment of measurable objectives such as accident frequency rates.

The first thing we have to accept is that failure of MBO is often caused by either lack of adequate management capabilities and experience, or poor organisational initiation strategy which fails to establish a practicable framework for success. To make it easier I have set out 4 main areas that have direct effect or failure in connection with safety objectives.

Programme Management Failure Causation Factors


The idea of management by objectives (MBO), was outlined by world renowned management guru, Peter Drucker in his book “The Practice of Management”, published in 1954, Drucker outlined a number of priorities for the manager of the future. Top of the list was that he or she “must manage by objectives”. Drucker also pointed out that managers often lose sight of their objectives because of something he called “the activity traps”. This is where people get so involved in their current activities that they forget their original purpose. In some cases it may be that they become engrossed in an activity as a means of avoiding the uncomfortable truth about their organisation’s condition.

My final comment:
I wrote the above article in June, 2003, with a purpose of highlighting that corporate safety objectives need to be planned and managed or they will fail. The use of MBO is still being used 10 years later by many safety departments around the world, with various degrees of success. I hope people think twice before they pump out their next annual list of safety objectives and remember:

MBO is not the answer to all problems or a quick fix to management inefficiency. Management by safety objectives will only work if you know what you want to achieve as an organisation, and are capable and willing to commit the necessary resources

Download a PDF copy of this article with full size graphics Click on title below;
MBO or PMF, it’s easy to screw up in Safety Management

Wayne J Harris
First Published on 16th June 2003

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