What are Strategic Objectives? Why are they important? How do you create and communicate them? Strategic objectives are what you want to happen, but they are often not the most pressing or urgent priorities. They are leaders’ ideas of what they would like to happen in various functional areas over the following months and years. These can address Business Development, People, Operations, or Financials. What would you like the organization to accomplish? Where do you see the organization? Where do you see yourself? When clarified, these are all types of objectives that form the basis for current-day activities and priorities. By defining and keeping our strategic objectives visible, we are reminding ourselves why we are up to our necks in alligators in the first place!
The development of strategic objectives starts with the leadership’s mission. Why are we in business? What value do we bring to the market, or are we creating a new market?
How do we measure up to the status quo and the competition? What makes our offerings superior or unique? This idea is typically a founding premise that drives the organization forward.
Our mission must be clear and concise to be useful. Because the organization must understand and embrace it as it grows. However, it is important to note that an organization may pivot along the way. If it does, it needs to redefine its new mission and communicate the reasons and strategies for the pivot. Imagine you are traveling to a destination in several vehicles when, suddenly, the ‘leader’ decides to veer off the path. What is she doing? Where is he going? Why has our route or destination changed? You have been there and know what that is like. There is usually a good reason, but it can be stressful until you hear the explanation. The same goes for your company mission; we must communicate, reiterate, and let everyone know if we are changing something as core as our mission.
Like our mission, our vision is where we see the organization’s future. Taking the caravan example above, what if the leader just said, ‘Follow me!’ and took off? How would the organization react? How efficient would it be to get everyone going in the same direction?
Who might stay behind due to the uncertainty of the outcome? A vision explains the destination, reasons, and measures of success so we know, ‘Are we there yet?’
Measures are another component of our strategic objectives. If our stated objective is to ‘grow our sales revenue,’ how will we know how we are progressing or if it is realistic? Knowing when we reach our objectives is critical to our success.
By identifying a target measure, we can judge our progress and assess our methods towards achieving it.
This practice leads to continually improving our methods and tactics to reach the objective.
Defining our Mission, Vision, and Measures is critical to defining our Strategic Objectives.
Some organizations would also add ‘Values’ to these foundational ideas. What are we willing to do to achieve our objectives? How do we want to operate our enterprise? Who do we want to attract as clients and customers?
Spending some focused effort to identify these pieces will ensure that our resulting objectives are consistent with what we are trying to accomplish, where we are going, how we measure our success, and how we conduct ourselves along the way.
Now, the work of identifying our Strategic Objectives can begin. The importance of identifying, clarifying, and communicating these strategic objectives allows an organization to get beyond its day-to-day activities and results by defining a destination. We have all been busy with the seemingly urgent activities of operating an enterprise. Strategic objectives add important activities and actions to our to-do list.
Establishing visible strategic objectives takes our eyes off the ‘now’ and allows leaders to focus on ‘tomorrow.’ We must communicate these objectives to the organization to have a voice in what is in front of us today. Strategic, by its very nature, means ‘long term.’ Today’s activity can obscure the long-term view of where we are trying to go.
Periodic review and discussion keep these strategic objectives part of our daily focus and activities.
Breaking down these long-term strategic objectives into bite-sized activities helps us take steps toward the future. Typically, strategic objectives are in several action steps toward a result. We can see progress toward our objectives by defining the activities necessary to work toward the end objective. As we define a destination or vision of what we are working to achieve, we also need to identify the route. What can we do or start doing to achieve an objective now to work towards the desired outcome? What do we need to accomplish to achieve a target objective before we get there? Are there interim steps we can take that move in the direction we are going? Think of it as a cross-country road trip. We map our routes, plan our stops, and prepare our vehicles. Do we take a side trip to see the world’s largest ball of string, Wall Drug, or the Corn Palace? We need to make planned progress to arrive at our destination in time.
Assigning these objectives to a ‘Champion’ becomes part of our accountability framework.
During holiday feasts hosted at our house, the Chef often says, ‘Somebody, please get the ‘blank’ out of the refrigerator.’ If I am around and not working on the last task assigned, I will often look at one of our grown children standing around and say, “Please get ‘blank’ out of the refrigerator.” The lesson in this is that if we don’t assign ‘someone’ to be responsible and accountable for achieving an objective or completing an action, we will stand around and look at each other, wondering why we did not get our objectives completed months down the road.
Every action or activity step should have an achievement or completion time frame. Studies have repeatedly shown that many of our ‘goals’ or ‘resolutions’ are seldom achieved. The ones with some common characteristics: Written down and communicated to someone to keep them accountable, contain a measurable progress or result and a ‘when’ they’ll achieve it.
SMART objectives are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. Using the SMART acronym for strategic objectives is critical to making them happen.
It is also valid for assigning accountability for seeing that they are progressing and taking necessary steps to achieve these overarching strategies.
In summary, Strategic Objectives drive us toward the future we define. It must be consistent with our mission, vision, values, and measures of success. An excellent strategic objective is a stretch goal. It is complex and challenging. It takes commitment, accountability, and clear evidence of accomplishment. Good strategic objectives help us pick our heads up and look into our future during everyday busyness. While we must handle urgent matters, we don’t have to have strategic objectives. That is unless we want to get somewhere other than where we are today.