The Importance of Management by Objectives

Management By Objectives – The Most Important Feature of ICS

In its greatest context ‘Management by Objectives’ means knowing what you are trying to do. Whenever I think about this premise, I am always taken back to one of my favorite movies, “Patton”. Specifically, the scene where George C. Scott, masterfully playing the role of the famous General, is doing a walk-through of a command garrison area that he has just taken over. He comes across a soldier sleeping on the floor and – true to his reputation – kicks him. As the soldier leaps to his feet facing a 3 star General, Patton asks, “Just what were you doing down there?”. The soldier replies, “Sir, I was trying to get some sleep” to which Patton replies, “Well, you are the first son-of-a-bitch I’ve come across that at least knows what he is TRYING to do”.

The National Incident Management System, and within it the Incident Command System, defines 14 features of ICS. One of those 14 features is Management by Objectives. The pure definition from an open FEMA website states:

Incidents are managed using objectives. Objectives are communicated throughout the entire ICS organization through the Incident Action Planning Process.

The Incident Commander establishes the objectives that drive incident operations.

Management by objectives includes the following:

  • Establishing specific, measurable objectives
  • Identifying strategies, tactics, tasks, and activities to achieve the objectives
  • Developing and issuing assignments, plans, procedures, and protocols for various incident management functional elements to accomplish the identified tasks
  • Documenting results against the objectives to measure performance, facilitate corrective actions, and inform development of incident objectives for the subsequent operational period

As a Planning Section Chief, former Marine, former SWAT cop and present-day business owner, I can say that it is one of the most important factors – if not the most important factor in both managing and accomplishing goals. When set in place with the other 13 features of ICS, an argument can be made that Management by Objectives is the key to all other objectives. They can be formulated as S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time sensitive) which assists in ensuring the proper elements exist so that the objective is managerially effective. Putting out the fire or catching the bad guys are more in the realm of notions or goals, not a management objective. 


So, returning to the original scene from the film “Patton”. You do have to be one who knows what they are trying to do. Using the concepts of Management by Objectives and S.M.A.R.T., in addition to understanding its significance in the grander scheme of family ICS features, will make you an effective member of a management organization.

Todd Manns

Blue Cell Founding Partner & Managing Partner

1 comment

Barton Dunant

We are big fans of Management by Objectives – and for emergency response organizations (or candidly, any organization) we believe top-line priorities must follow the “LIP” – It’s an acronym for Life Safety, Incident Stabilization and Property Protection – and those three areas – in that order are what commanders need to consider when defining their Priorities or Objective Categories of any incident response operation. The LIP priorities must always occur, and be prioritized in that order when it comes to creating Strategies and Tactics on the Operation. When you are considering a Mission Assignment, ask yourself: Does it fit this criteria? Are we making sure our team is safe at all times? Remember Responder Life Safety is always the number 1 priority.

Barton Dunant

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