The One Minute Manager – how to motivate people & get results – leadership book review

People Management

There are usually two types of managers: the ones that are focused on the well-being of the people they lead (and they are called democratic) and the ones that are focused on the results (usually called autocratic). But effective managers can manage themselves and the people they work with in such a way that both the organization and the people profit from their presence.

The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson is written as a short story about a young reporter trying to find out what are the most important techniques one can use in order to successfully manage people. In his quest, he seeks the advice of the “One minute manager” – one of the most renowned CEOs in his area – who guides him into understanding the three core concepts upon which his management style is based on: the one minute goal setting, the one minute praise and the one minute reprimand.

This manager spends little time with the people he manages. Concisely specifying the goal and being able to adjust the progress giving valuable feedback along the way is all that is needed to improve the outcome of his subordinates while keeping them motivated at the same time. With time, people tend to need less and less interactions with their manager, being able to create their own tactics to get the job done and eventually becoming One Minute Managers themselves.

I. The foundation of the one minute management: One minute goal setting

Some managers complain about having to work with unmotivated people. But outside work hours the same people seem very motivated to do just about anything. The issue may not be with their attitude, but with their understanding of their target at work.

One night, for example, I was bowling and I saw some of the ‘problem employees’ at work from my last organization. One of the real problem people, who I remembered all too well, took the bowling ball and approached the line and rolled the ball. Then he started to scream and yell and jump around. Why do you think he was so happy? Because he got a strike. He had knocked down all the pins.

So why he and other people are not that excited at work? It’s because they don’t know where the pins are.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

In bowling the goal is clear. You know when you aced it. Why don’t we have the same approach with the goals at work?

As the saying goes, one can never reach his destination if he doesn’t know where he is going. In many organizations there is a discrepancy between what people are doing and what their boss thinks they should be doing. Everything begins with the clarity of the task at hand: it should have a short description that is agreed upon by both the manager and the employee and it should be made clear to the people you lead what exactly are they accountable for. They need to be aware of the fact that doing things right is just part of the picture. They should be doing the right things also.

It is also not efficient to bombard the employees with a lot of goals at the same time. Use the 80/20 principle: focus on the 20% of the actions what will deliver 80% of the results – this will also ease the goal setting process.

The old man [the one minute manager] believes in the 80-20 goalsetting rule. That is, 80% of your really important results will come from 20% of your goals. So we only do One Minute Goal Setting on that 20%, that is, our key areas of responsibility – maybe three to six goals in all. Of course, in the event a special project comes up, we set special One Minute Goals.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson
Set goals keeping the SMART acronym in mind

The One Minute Manager feels that a goal should be recorded on no more than a single page and it should not take more than 250 words to express so that anyone can be able to read it within a minute. He keeps a copy and gives one to his subordinate so they both can periodically check the progress. Once the employee knows what his job is, the one-minute-manager always makes sure he explains what good performance is. In other words, performance standards are always clear.

When people are having issues with the approach needed to fix a problem or reach a goal, the one minute manager tries to help by having the situation presented in behavioral terms (put aside the attitudes and feelings and specify the problem in observable, measurable terms). Then he makes sure the goal is clear for the employee and then proceeds to ask questions that would help him find a solution to the problem.

“I described the problem the best I could. “He said, That’s good, Trenell! Now tell me what you would like to be happening in behavioral terms. “I don’t know, I said. “Then don’t waste my time, he snapped. “I just froze in amazement for a few seconds. I didn’t know what to do. He mercifully broke the dead silence. “If you can’t tell me what you’d like to be happening, he said, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

Quick Summary

  • Agree on your goals.
  • See what good behavior looks like.
  • Write out each of your goals on a single sheet of paper using less than 250 words.
  • Read and re-read each goal, which requires only a minute or so each time you do it.
  • Take a minute every once in a while out of your day to look at your performance
  • See whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

II. The most powerful tool in the management arsenal: The One minute praising

The author, Kenneth H. Blanchard, has stated that if he was ever restricted to teaching just one management technique, he would choose the One minute praising because the key to developing people is to catch them doing something right. Sadly, in most of organizations, people know they are doing a good job only when their superiors are not saying negative things to them, so no-news is good-news. This is bad because they are not receiving constant feedback, they usually have to wait until they make a mistake in order for them to know if they are doing good or not.

The no 1 motivator of people is feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. And the one feedback that is seldom given to people is positive feedback – catching them doing something right.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

Once the goals are set and understood by all parties involved, the manager should make a habit of wandering around and checking for things done right so that he can give positive constructive feedback. Goals are being achieved incrementally, and having the team members know they are on the right track will also help them discover the next steps. The author stressed that this action is so important that some one minute managers even schedule time in order to look for things done right, because people lose interest in something no one cares about.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions

The most important thing in training somebody to become a winner is to catch them doing something right – in the beginning approximately right and gradually moving them towards the desired behavior. With a winner you don’t have to catch them doing things right very often, because good performers catch themselves doing things right and are able to be self-reinforcing.

Most managers wait until their people do something exactly right before they praise them. As a result, many people never get to become high performers because their managers concentrate on catching them doing things wrong- that is, anything that falls short of the final desired performance.

Short summary

  • Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  • Praise people immediately.
  • Tell people what they did right—be specific.
  • Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
  • Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel.
  • Encourage them to do more of the same.
  • Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization.

III. The calculated tough love – the one minute reprimand

The last thing in the arsenal of the One Minute Manager is the reprimand. We can not base our style on praising only: when someone makes a significant mistake he should be told about it. It can be a great form of feedback when applied accordingly and it can help the person who made the mistake to improve the future work. The One Minute Reprimand works very well if you keep in mind the following rules when applying it:

1. The feedback has to be immediate

That is, you get to the individual as soon as you observe the ‘misbehavior’ or your data information system tips you off. It is not appropriate to gunnysack or save up negative feelings about someone’s poor performance. Unless discipline occurs as close to the misbehavior as possible, it tends not to be as helpful in influencing future behavior.

Most managers are ‘gunnysack’ discipliners. That is, they store up observations of poor behavior and then some day when performance review comes or they are angry in general because the ‘sack is so full,’ they charge in and ‘dump everything on the table.’ They tell people all the things they have done wrong for the last few weeks or months or more. The manager and subordinate usually end up yelling at each other about the facts or simply keeping quiet and resenting each other. The person receiving the feedback doesn’t really hear what he or she has done wrong.

If managers would only intervene early, they could deal with one behavior at a time and the person receiving the discipline would not be overwhelmed. They could hear the feedback which seems more fair and clear. This is why the performance review could be an ongoing process, not something to be done only once a year.

2. Do not reprimand learning

Mistakes can be made by a person who is currently in the learning process, due to lack of information or experience. In those cases, the manager should be directing the person in question towards trainings that can improve or complete the required skills and maybe revisit the current goals.

Reprimands should be given when a subordinate won’t do something because of an attitude problem. But even then the manager has to keep in mind to:

3. Never attack a person’s worth

Reprimand the behavior only, so the feedback and the reaction to it is about the specific behavior and not about their feelings about themselves as human beings. Think “their behavior is not OK but they are OK”. In this way it is easier for the reprimanded person to not get defensive.

We are not just our behavior. We are the persons managing our behavior. If you realize you are managing people and not just their recent behavior, you will do well.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

This is why sometimes it is useful to finish a reprimand with a praise, thinking about the qualities a person already posses that would help in solving the issue in the future. But there is a catch to this also: The One Minute Manager presented an interesting story about why it is important to always have the reprimand before the praise and not the other way around:

There is, in fact, a story in ancient China that illustrates this. Once upon a time, an emperor appointed a second in command. He called this prime minister in and, in effect, said to him: Why don’t we divide up the tasks? Why don’t you do all the punishing and I’ll do all the rewarding? The prime minister said, Fine. I’ll do all the punishing and you do all the rewarding. Now this emperor soon noticed that whenever he asked someone to do something, they might do it or they might not do it. However, when the prime minister spoke, people moved. So the emperor called the prime minister back in and said: Why don’t we divide the tasks again? You have been doing all the punishing here for quite a while. Now let me do the punishing and you do the rewarding. So the prime minister and the emperor switched roles again. And, within a month the prime minister was emperor. The emperor had been a nice person, rewarding and being kind to everyone; then he started to punish people. People said, What’s wrong with that old codger? and they threw him out on his ear. When they came to look for a replacement, they said: You know who’s really starting to come around now—the prime minister. So, they put him right into office.

The One Minute Manager – Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

4. The simple Rule of touching

Touch is a very powerful message. People have strong feelings about being touched, and that needs to be respected. During a praising or a reprimand, no one would allow the touch of someone whose motives he or she is unsure of. Touch is very honest. People know immediately when you touch them whether you care about them, or whether you are just trying to find a new way to manipulate them.

As The One Minute Manager puts it, there is a very simple rule about touching: “When you touch, don’t take”. Touch the people you manage only when you are giving them something: reassurance, support, encouragement or something of this nature.

Quick Summary

  • Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and in no uncertain terms;
  • First half of reprimand
    • Reprimand people immediately.
    • Tell people what they did wrong – be specific.
    • Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong – and in no uncertain terms.
    • Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel.
  • Second half of the reprimand
    • Shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side.
    • Remind them how much you value them.
    • Reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in this situation.
    • Realize that when the reprimand is over, it’s over. Ideally you won’t come back to it.


The One Minute Manager gives as some simple tips about how we can manage more effectively by setting up clear goals and giving good and honest feedback that is correctly understood and applied. The one minute goal setting, praising and reprimand are all very powerful tools that can help us do just that. Below is an excerpt from the book with a brief summary of the techniques discussed:

If you seek a more in-depth analysis of leadership styles and methods, check out the other articles on this blog like Ego Is The Enemy or Daring Greatly.

6 thoughts on “The One Minute Manager – how to motivate people & get results – leadership book review

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  6. Wow, these are some easy steps to implement in order to have a great career start as a manager. Thanks for the article, keep it going!

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