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Kenneth Blanchard: the One-Minute Manager.

The One-Minute Manager was first published in 1982. Lambasted as trite and shallow by academics, it has since sold over 7 million copies, been translated into over 25 languages, and is frequently found on managers' bookshelves. It launched a new genre of management publishing providing the model for a host of imitations.


Kenneth Blanchard graduated from Cornell University in Government and Philosophy and went on to complete his PhD in Administration and Management. In the early 1980s he was Professor of Leadership and Organizational behaviour at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He wrote and researched extensively in the fields of leadership, motivation and the management of change and his Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilising Human Resources (co-authored with Paul Hersey) is now in its 7th edition and has become a classic text.

Blanchard and his co-author of the One-Minute Manager (OMM), Spencer Johnson MD, describe the book as an allegory, a simple compilation of what 'many wise people have taught us and what we have learned ourselves' (Introduction to OMM).

One-minute management

The setting of one-minute management sees a young, aspiring manager in search of that holy grail--an effective manager--on whom the young man may model his thinking and actions. The aspirant manager--a cross between Le Petit Prince and Candide--is caught between the two extremes of the Scientific and Human Relations schools: some managers get good results (but at a price that few colleagues and subordinates seem willing to support) whilst other managers (whose people really like them) have results which leave much to be desired.

Our hero quickly comes across a manager who gets excellent results as a result of--Apparently--very little effort on his part--the One-Minute Manager. The OMM has three simple secrets that bring about increases to productivity, profits and satisfaction--one-minute goal-setting, one-minute praising and one-minute reprimanding.

One-minute goal-setting

Although staff cannot know how well they are doing without clear goals, claims the OMM, many are not clear on priorities, and many are spoken to only when they make a mistake. The OMM requires managers to make clear what people are asked to do and what their expected behaviour or performance is, and to get staff to write down their most important goals on a single sheet of paper for continued clarification.

One-minute praising

The second secret--one-minute praising--is the key to improved performance and increased productivity. Instead of catching people out for doing something wrong, the opposite is recommended: 'The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right'. There are three steps in one-minute praising:

1. Praise someone as close in time to the good behaviour as possible. If you can't find someone to praise everyday, then you should wonder why.

2. Be specific. Make it clear what it was that was performed well.

3. Share feelings--tell them how you feel about what they did, not what you think about what they did.

One-minute reprimanding

The third secret of the One-Minute Manager is the key to changing the attitude of the poor performer and there are four aspects to it:

1. Immediacy--when a reprimand is necessary, it is best to do it as closely as possible to the poor performance which led to it.

2. Be specific--don't tell people about your reactions or give vent to your feelings, tell them what they did wrong; admonish the action, not the person.

3. Share feelings--once you have established what was wrong, share your feelings.

4. Tell them how good they are--the last step in the reprimand. If you finish on negative feedback, they will reflect on your style of behaviour, not on their own performance.

The development of one-minute management

Putting the One Minute Manager to work was a follow-up in 1984 by Blanchard and co-author Richard Lorber (an expert in performance improvement) to flesh out some of the basic ideas which had met initial success in the One Minute Manager. Sub-titled How to Turn the Three Secrets Into Skills, the 1984 follow-up focuses on the 'ABCs' of management, 'effective reprimanding', and the 'PRICE' system.

The ABCs

Activators--those things which a manager has to do before anyone else can be expected to achieve anything, such as goal-setting, laying down areas of accountability, issuing instructions and setting performance standards.

Behaviour--or performance--what a person says or does, such as filing, writing, selling, ordering, buying etc.

Consequence--what a manager does after performance, such as sharing feelings, praising, reprimanding, supporting etc.

Effective reprimanding

As a consequence of performance, the manager has to distinguish between when an employee can't do Something--which implies a need for training and signals a return to the activator of goal-setting, and when an employee won't do something--which implies an attitude problem and a case for reprimanding. Reprimands do not teach skills, they can only change attitudes. Positive consequences on the other hand can influence future performance to the good, so it is important to end a reprimand with a praising. This has the effect of making the employee think about their own behaviour and not that of the reprimander.

The PRICE system

PRICE takes the three basic secrets of one-minute management and turns them into the five steps of:

Pinpointing--defining key performance areas in measurable terms--part of one-minute goal-setting

Recording--gathering data to measure actual performance and keep track of progress

Involving--sharing the information recorded with whomsoever is responsible

Coaching--providing constructive feedback on improving performance

Evaluating--part of coaching, also part of reprimanding or praising.

Leadership and the One-Minute Manager stresses that there is no single, best method of leadership, but are in fact four styles: directing, delegating, coaching and support. Whichever style is employed depends on the situation to be managed. 'Situational leadership is not something you do to people, but something you do with people'. Blanchard turns conventional leadership thinking on its head, using the analogy of turning the organisational pyramid upside down; instead of staff working for their boss, the boss should work for the staff.

The One-Minute Manager Builds High-Performing Teams can be seen as a companion to Leadership and concentrates on integrating the simplicity of the one-minute techniques into understanding group dynamics and adjusting leadership style to meet the developing circumstances.

The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey deals with the problems of time management and overload. Paying tribute to Bill Oncken, Blanchard's co-author who created the monkey analogy, Blanchard points the finger at the manager as the 'hero with all the answers' by stressing that bosses are not there to try and tackle every problem themselves, rather to get others to come up with solutions. The monkey is the problem--or the next move--being passed from subordinate to superior, making the superior rapidly ineffective; the one-minute manager is not a collector of monkeys, rather a facilitator and coach helping others to solve their own problems.

In Perspective

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Blanchard continues to write, train and consult, and a current overview of his offerings can be found at Like other well-known management writers, however, he has adopted a broader remit that the focussed concepts which brought him to the attention of managers. From the mid-1990s, he has independently or collaboratively published titles on high performance teams, empowerment, world class organisations, positive relationships, and the power of vision. Cleverly--in that titles sell--he has included the 'time' element in the subtitles of most of these books, though with the qualification that team building and constructing world class organisations do take more than a couple of minutes to achieve.

So where does Blanchard sit in the Hall of Fame of management thinkers?

At the end of the 1990s much of the material in the One-Minute Manager series no longer seems earthshattering. Countless publications and infinitely more seminars on leadership, change, delegation and time management have rendered a glance back to Blanchard as unsurprising; entertaining, and even comforting in its confirmation, but--like the key message from a contemporaneous publication, In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982)--no longer the inspiration it was.

When asked why In Search of Excellence did so well, critics and commentators argued that its timing was impeccable, being published at a time when Western business concepts were being rubbished in favour of analyses of the Japanese business boom. If Peters and Waterman were largely about re-invigorating pride in successful American organisations, Blanchard's book was excellently timed for its impact on individual skills and techniques.

It is important to remember that before Peters, Blanchard and the host of others following in their wake, management--as far as the hard-nosed manager was concerned--was a stuffy, dry subject reserved for lengthy academic treatises and exposes. Most books--and there were not many--focused on building the arguments of the human relations school and tackling the enormity of the scientific/bureaucratic establishment constructed so convincingly by Taylor, Ford and Weber. Books on management were not popular, not widely read and certainly not best-sellers. It is often claimed that Peters and Waterman changed all that. But Ken Blanchard's contribution was also hugely influential. The One-Minute Manager may have been panned by the academics, but it did more to make management digestible, readable and accessible to a wide audience than any of its predecessors. In the form of allegory, anecdotes and allusions, it brought management to a level where many could believe they could do it and do it well. Others have followed in the story-telling mould of OMM, One Page Management (Khadem) and Zapp! the Lightning of Empowerment (Byham) to name two.

So what is the appeal of the One-Minute Manager, rejected (like Maslow) by academia, but wholeheartedly adopted (as was Maslow) by practising managers around the world? Blanchard's book was, first and foremost, short and to the point. Moreover, it was written in readable, everyday language, offering practical, everyday solutions to practical, everyday problems. This was no dry, stuffy theory, but a collection of honest sensible techniques to try out straightaway. This is where Blanchard scored a first.

Any author that sells over 7 million copies deserves a place in the Management Hall of Fame. For Blanchard, that place has to be broadly in the Human Relations School alongside the great popularisers of empowerment on the one hand and the self-help school stretching back to Dale Carnegie and Samuel Smiles, and up to the present day with Stephen Covey, and lately, with Tom Peters, on the other.

Blanchard's message may not be original--few are--but few have spread the simple messages more effectively, or to such a wide audience.

Key works by Blanchard

The One Minute Manager, with Spencer Johnson London: Willow Books, 1983

Putting the One Minute manager to work, with Robert Lorber London: Fontana, 1985

Leadership and the One-Minute Manager, with Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi London: Collins, 1986.

The One-Minute Manager meets the monkey, with William Oncken and Hal Burrows London: Collins, 1990

The One-Minute Manager builds high-performing teams, with Donald Carew and Eunice Parisi-Carew London: Fontana, 1993
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Date:May 1, 2003
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