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Is it a good objective, or are you seeking “world peace”?

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This is my fourth post on bad strategic objectives.  In my first post, I discussed a test to tell whether an objective you set for your organization is truly strategic.  By now, I’ve also highlighted three common types of non-strategic objectives, the incremental objective , the accounting objective, and the lead brick objective.  Today, we’ll take a look at a very common type – the world peace objective.

When beauty pageant contestants are asked what they would like to accomplish in their lives, one of the most vapid answers we often hear is “world peace”.  Smart people find this distasteful for two reasons:  first, it’s not what the contestants really want, it’s what they think the judges want to hear, and second, it’s impossible.

Do you ever encounter this in your strategic objectives?  When the owner, or CEO of a company says “I want to see profit rise by 80% each year”, does someone suggest “Increase profit by 80%” as one of your strategic objectives?

On its face, the world peace objective looks very strategic.  After all, we can’t argue that and 80% increase in profit wouldn’t be great, and it seems strategic in its impact.  But there are three key problems with the world peace objective:

1.  It’s about symptoms, not causes.

While the SMART definition of objectives maintains an objective must be a result, it’s very difficult to act on results.  The best objectives help us act toward a mid-point goal which leads to the results we want.  This means your objectives will lead to better results if they at least mention the cause that you are working on.

2.  It’s completely overwhelming in scope.

Think about it:  where would you begin?  You might take the “eat an elephant” approach and tackle the objective one bite at a time, but this one could be streamlined into a single, unworkable action step:  “everyone do their jobs better and get better results”.  In a real-world action plan, this would lead to about 2,000 steps, which would look like an insanely detailed job-description manual that NO ONE WOULD READ or use.  Sure, you might score big with it, but I see far greater success with smaller, do-able objectives.

3.  People have real trouble getting excited about it.

Think about objectives that you have seen people get excited about.  They are very, very specific, and people like thinking about the result of the objective.  Certainly, the CEO and CFO will be excited about a big increase in profit, but it’s much easier to celebrate the opening of a new location, the launch of a new product, or a patent on a new technology.

So, next time you hear someone suggest a “world peace” type objective, ask this simple question:  “How, specifically, could we accomplish this?”  If you can break it down into three or four concrete, big things you can do, consider making those your strategic objectives instead.

If setting good objectives is hampering your execution of your strategic plan, you might also want to consider re-thinking your strategic planning process.  A great starting point to this would be to attend one of our popular Simplified Strategic Planning seminars.