Objectives – Part 1


1 These notes aim to (a) Encourage Readers to give more attention to setting objectives and (b) Help them produce wiser and more specific-objectives.

2 The notes provide a detailed meaning for the word “Objective”. They discuss the necessity for objectives and where objectives fit into the activities of (a) Managing and (b) Operating. Then they introduce the idea of a helping relationship between objectives that leads to an explanation of the hierarchy of objectives. This concept introduces different types of helping relationships and the notes then discuss part objectives and hope objectives as well as independent and dependent relationships between any two objectives. After illustrating the use of the hierarchy of objectives, they explain how to distinguish a good (wise) objective from a bad (unwise) objective.

3 Part 2 of these notes looks at the various classes of objectives, competition between them, the impermanence of objectives at different organisational levels, and discusses some principles to use when setting objectives.

A Meaning for – Objective

4 The idea of an objective contains a number of elements. First, it implies a “something” which no one has achieved at a given time, but which someone believes someone should achieve. Provided someone tries to achieve this “something”, then an objective exists.

5 Example. Alan believes he, himself, should try to achieve a specific objective, such as - “Purchase a new machine”.

6 Second, an objective exists if someone believes someone should attempt to achieve an objective, even if this “someone” does not believe he/she should try to achieve it. Thus, one person might plan that someone else should have a particular objective.

7 Example. Alan believes Mary should “start an education course” and “write all objectives so they start with a verb”.

8 Third, the achievement of an objective does not need to occur for an objective to exist. If an aiming point exists in a person’s mind (for that person or someone else) then an objective exists.

9 Fourth, an objective must refer to something in the future. Attempts to achieve an objective and its possible achievement can only occur in the future. However, the result may already exist and then the objective involves maintaining a situation.

10 Example. Keep the boiler’s temperature at between 200-210 degrees until the end of the shift.

11 These notes call the ‘something” a result and define it as – Result – the state of something at one point of time or for a period of time.

12 The above points, collected together help to define an Objective – Objective – a result in the future that someone believes someone should try to achieve.

13 The following provides a briefer, but not complete, definition of an objective – A future result that someone tries to achieve. This briefer definition leaves out situations where someone selects an objective that the “Selector” believes someone else should try to achieve.

The Necessity for Objectives

14 Most people will find it difficult to imagine any activity taking place without an objective. Sometimes people will class the objective as unclear or different from one time to another and different people will have different ideas about it. However, any activity must try to achieve some result in the future even if only “continue the activity” or “finish the activity”.

Where do Objectives fit into the activity of Managing?

15 If people accept a definition of Managing as: the process of determining an objective and trying to achieve it through the effort of other people, then objectives must rate as important in managing. All Managers at every level of an organisation must concern themselves with objectives – the ones they set themselves and the ones set for them.

The need to think consciously about Objectives

16 Even though activity implies some objective, many people find themselves carrying out some activity without a very clear idea of the end objective. All too frequently Organisations realise their members have pulled in different directions (conflicting objectives) or they have aimed for wrong objectives. Other cases occur where people give the objectives or parts of the Organisation too much attention and/or forget the overall objective.

17 From time to time, all Managers will find it profitable to consider the objective of their Organisation or Section and check whether their current activities contribute to these objectives. Managers (indeed everyone) should use the following question more frequently: “What objective(s) should we aim to achieve?” More frequent use of this question would help to improve almost all Organisations. Moreover, Managers need to communicate the answer to anyone connected with any activities that aim to achieve the Organisation’s objectives.

Operators as well as Managers set Objectives

18 These notes define the word “objective” in a very broad way. However, some people believe that the word “objective” refers only to aims set by people who have high-level jobs in an Organisation. The definition used in these notes opposes this view. If objectives cover future results then everyone in an Organisation sets objectives. Whenever some people higher in an Organisation set objectives for people below, then these lower-level people have to determine ways and means of carrying out these objectives. These “ways and means” imply setting other objectives. Ideally, such objectives should aim to help achieve the objectives set by higher-level people.

19 People at the very bottom of an organisation set objectives.

20 Examples. Any Operator can set the objective of producing (say) 30 parts in a day and aim to reach this level within a week of starting the job. An Operator (Tom) feels particularly keen one day and decides to beat his previous record for the number produced. Mary speeds up her last job so she can get finished early. Harry makes his last job for the day take a little longer.

21 These examples show that people set some of their own objectives, some of which help to achieve the objectives of their respective Supervisors.

An important relationship between Objectives: one helps to achieve another

22 For any two objectives, a particular relationship exists i.e. one objective helps to achieve the other objective.

23 Examples (a) “Unscrew the lid of the bottle” will help to achieve (b) “Take out some of bottle’s contents”.

24 If a circle represents an objective and a connecting arrow shows the above-mentioned relationship of “help to achieve” the diagram below shows the relationship visually: Note: the head on the arrow always points to the higher-level objective.

25 These notes call the higher-level objective an objective and the lower-level one, a sub-objective.

Objectives and Sub-Objectives – Interchangeability of these Terms

26 Once someone determines an end objective they can identify a whole series of other objectives, subsidiary to the overall (or end) objective. These notes call these other objectives “sub-objectives”. However, from another viewpoint, the overall objective deserves a label “sub-objective” since it will help to achieve some other still-higher-level objective. Similarly, the sub-objective becomes an objective from the viewpoint of objectives at a still lower level.

27 An objective’s classification as an objective or sub-objective depends on the viewpoint taken, i.e. the level from which someone “views” the objective.

Hierarchy of Objectves.

28 In any activity, a number of sub-objectives exist which someone believes will help to achieve a higher-level objective. The diagram below shows the relationship visually.

29 In the above diagram, the Drawer (or Planner) believes that Objectives A, B, and C will assist the achievement of Objective “X”. The diagram shows that Objectives 1-4 inclusive will help to achieve Objective “A”, and so on. The diagram also shows different levels of objectives.

30 These notes use the phrase Hierarchy of Objectives to describe the above type of diagram. The phrase “Hierarchy of Objectives” describes a group of objectives arranged to identify, and link together, objectives which have a high probability of helping to achieve other objectives in the group.

31 The following shows a more specific example which should help to make the idea of relationships clearer. It also shows the grouping of various objectives.

A hierarchy of objectives shows a plan

32 The activity of trying to determine objectives[1] which will achieve a given objective involves people in deliberating thinking about what someone (sometimes including themselves) should do. This activity equals planning – a conscious thinking process aimed at determining objectives. Most people call the end result of planning – a plan. These notes define a plan as – a group of objectives that someone believes will all help to achieve an (end) objective.

33 A Hierarchy of Objectives describes a group of objectives which someone believes will (help to) achieve an end objective. Thus Hierarchies equal plans provided the Drawer of the Hierarchy believes the Hierarchy includes sufficient objectives to achieve the end objective – assuming someone achieves the objectives and in the right sequence.

Two Types of Relationships between Objectives

34 At least two types of “helping” relationships exist between objectives:

(a) One objective will help to achieve another objective – classed as a fact, not opinion, and

(b) Someone believes one objective has a high probability of helping another. This relationship rates as an opinion – not everyone need agree on the helping relationship or its strength.

35 These notes call a sub-objective which has the first relationship (Will help) with the next-higher level objective a Part Objective. They call a sub-objective with the second relationship – a Hope Objective.

36 Example. “Fill the black kettle with one litre of boiling water” (Objective A) must help the achievement of “Obtain a litre of boiling water in the black kettle (Objective B). Objective A provides an example of a “Part-Objective” - in relation to Objective B.

37 Where sufficient “Part Objectives” exist, their achievement (in a correct sequence) will equal the achievement of the next-higher-level objective.

38 Example. The achievement of Objectives “A” plus Objective “C” (Place the kettle on the lighted gas and leave for ten minutes) equals the achievement of “Obtain a boiling litre of water”.

39 The introduction of these two technical terms: “hope-objective” and “part-objective” helps to identify different planning problems.

40 In the actual process of planning two major problems exist:

(a) Has the Planner discovered all part-objectives?

(b) Where the Planner cannot establish all the part-objectives then the Planner needs to consider whether the “sub-objectives” really help achieve the next higher-level objective.

2 Hierarchies do not show a sequence for achieving the objectives which the Hierarchy shows on the same level. However, do plans have to show sequence of objectives?

41 An Example to illustrate the latter problem. The objective: “Replace the Foreman” may help the objective: “Increase the productivity of the factory”. If the lowness of productivity has nothing to do with the existing Foreman then this “sub-objective” will not really deserve the term “part-objective’.

Another type of Relationship between Objectives: Dependent and Independent

42 Another relationship exists between objectives – attempts to achieve one objective cannot start until someone completes another objective. (Dependent Relationship). In other cases attempts to achieve both objectives can occur together – provided enough resources (e.g. people and machines) exist. (Independent Relationship).

43 Example. Consider the objective: Send a letter to a Customer. The following lower-level “sub-objectives” exist for it: Dictate letter, Transport dictating machine to Typist’s office, Type letter from dictation tape, Take letter to Dictator’s office, Sign, Put into envelope, Stamp, and Post.

44 In this example, some people can achieve some “sub-objectives” without waiting for other people. A Secretary or Clerk could stamp the envelope before a Secretary takes the letter to the dictator’s office for signature. In this case the two objectives rate as independent, i.e. an organisation can get both done at the same time.

45 The above ideas lead to a distinction between objectives which will help people to plan better. This distinction involves classifying some as Dependent i.e. one (some) objective(s) cannot commence until someone achieves another (some) objective(s).

46 However sometimes an Organisation cannot attempt to achieve two objectives at the same time- but only because the Organisation does not have sufficient resources. Readers should note that this situation does make the two objectives dependent.

47 The real test of dependency rests on imagining unlimited resources but still finding that the total resource effort cannot start to achieve one objective until the overall group (or one of its parts) achieves one objective.

48 Example. The objectives of (a) Type letter cannot commence until the finish of (b) Dictate letter. (However a machine which translates the voice of the dictator into a typed letter will alter the situation.)

49 Another important point relates to the dependent/independent relationship; once someone introduces the speed of achieving each sub objective a reduction in independence occurs.

50 Example. In the above example of getting dressed, given the fact that the clothes lie at various points and the person starts getting dressed from a particular point the minimum distance to walk becomes important. In this case a strict order of doing things becomes important if the objective of getting dressed within the shortest possible time becomes the real objective.

51 When the end objective includes “in the shortest time possible” the hierarchy of objectives becomes one long chain – someone decides a definite sequence for trying to achieve each objective – because each objective now includes a time factor.

The Usefulness of the Hierarchy of Objectives

52 Everyone faces the following problems regularly: decide the job to do next. Even in high-level objectives, a right order for tackling the objectives exists (even if difficult to discover). The hierarchy of objectives helps reduce some of the conflict problems with respect to deciding the sequence of tackling objectives. The next section illustrates the point.

53 The hierarchy of objectives also allows a more-detailed and systematic examination of the process of planning. Further, it helps to identify various types of planning more clearly because Investigators have available to them different ideas and concepts. A major objective in helping Managers to manage better involves identifying good objectives as opposed to bad objectives. The hierarchy of objectives helps achieve this objective (see later).

Deciding Which Job to do next – an Example

54 The following paragraphs give an example of how looking for relationships between objectives can help to decide priority between objectives.

55 Harry, a Manager, has to decide whether he should:

(a)   write out a draft advertisement, or

(b)  read a long memo from his Boss, or

(c)   attend to a recommendation from a Subordinate, or

(d)  deal with a customer complaint.

56 All these objectives compete against each other for attention. However if the heading of the memo from the Boss reads “Second thoughts on the necessity to appoint a new person” then Harry should probably read the memo first. It may say – Donot proceed with the advertisement”. The Subordinate’s recommendation may turn out to cover the Customer’s complaint so it may represent early stages in dealing with the complaint.

57 Originally the four objectives appear to offer four possible jobs on which to start work. A Manager would have to chose one of the most important with only a low certainly about the “right” order of importance.

58 Whenever Managers can establish relationships between objectives (as in the above example) apparent competition between objectives may cease since the relationships show clearly that one objective should have preference over another.

59 The question: “What next higher-level objective does this objective aim to assist?” will usually help to check relationships.

60 Difficulties occur for all Managers because they must deal with many “hope objectives”. The objectives may help to contribute to some higher-level objective. However different people will find difficulty in establishing such relationships and disagree about the strength of the relationships they find. Such efforts often prove helpful because the strength of the relationships often helps decide priorities.

The need to distinguish a “Good” Objective from a “Bad” Objective

61 Everyone will benefit from an ability to select good (wise) objectives. However, people tend not to look for help in selecting good objectives because most people select objectives and aim to achieve them in the belief that they have selected good objectives. No-one deliberately aims to achieve what they class as a bad objective.

62 Some people classify attempts to check on the goodness of objectives as wasteful. However a detailed consideration of the problems involved in setting objectives should help to convince Readers that they should give more care and attention to considering whether they have set a good or bad objective.

63 The following section discusses this topic. The concept of the hierarchy of objectives underlines much of the following analysis.

How to distinguish a “good’ Objective from a “bad” Objective

64 In attempting to define good objectives, these notes first try to define bad objectives.


65 An objective refers to a future result: an aiming point. If people cannot identify the aiming point it deserves the classification of bad (unclear)

66 Thus a good objective involves a clear aiming point for -

(a) the person who sets the objective, and

(b) the people involved in helping to achieve the obiective. In many cases these include the Subordinates of the people concerned. However the phrase will often include other people in other Departments.

67 A separate set of  notes, called “A Classification for Objectives”, sets out a technique for classifying objectives according to their “clearness”.


68 Any objective has three broad effects on the next higher level objective that it aims to assist. It can:

(a) assist it,

(b) have no effect on it, or

(c) hinder it.

69 An objective that has no effect on, or hinders, the higher-level objective must rate as a bad (wrong) objective.

70 An objective will also rate as wrong if it assists the next higher-level objective but the next higher-level objective itself rates as “wrong” (bad)

71 These notes make these obvious points to emphasise the use of such questions as – “What should we try to achieve?” and “What next higher-level objective does this objective aim to assist?

“Relatively wrong”

72 People have a limited time available to try to achieve objectives. Hence a situation often arises where giving time to achieving one objective will help the overall situation less than giving time to achieving another objective. Thus where one sub-objective contributes more to a higher-level objective (not necessarily the next higher level) than another, the second sub-objective rates as “relatively wrong”.


73 Examination of the objectives below a particular “sub objective” helps to classify the sub objective as bad in cases where no-one can achieve it. This situation occurs if no-one can achieve the “part- objectives” on a level below the objective under consideration.

74 Examples of Impractical Objectives. (a) An organisation must use a particular person to achieve a part objective but the person lacks the skill to complete the objective. (b) The material and/or equipment essential to the achievement of an objective becomes unavailable.

75 Planners should class an objective as bad if it rates as: (a) unclear; (b) wrong; (c) relatively wrong; and (d) impractical. Any objective that does not fall into these four classes probably deserves the rating of good; but other factors may change such a rating.

Going Up or going Down a Hierarchy of Objectives

76 The last approach to rating the badness of objectives (classifying an objective as impractical) involves going “down the hierarchy”, as opposed to going “up the hierarchy”. Going “up the hierarchy” will disclose a bad objective because of a bad higher-level objective. Going “down the hierarchy” can disclose a bad objective because of the inability to achieve a lower-level objective.

Solving Problems by choosing the right Level in a Hierarchy

77 Managers will find the idea of going up and down the hierarchy useful in attempting to establish the location of a problem. Often people try to solve some problem with respect to one level of the hierarchy of objectives when they would gain more by working on an objective at a higher-level.

78 However the converse sometimes occurs: the solution of a lower-level problem will lead to a solution of a higher-level problem. Going “down the hierarchy” will pin-point the real cause. At a higher level, efforts may affect a number of lower-level objectives, none of them with sufficient emphasis to do much good.

Go to

[1] Readers should note the use of the plural of the word – objectives. One objective by itself would not deserve the label – a plan.

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