By Robert W. Bradford
One of the five key elements of getting better execution from your strategic planning is writing better objectives. Ideally, the objective sets a clear target for implementation that helps focus the team and makes prioritization of action steps easier.
One of the trickiest parts of writing a good objective is stating the objective as a result. Many executives struggle with this, as the easier way to write out your objectives tends to be stating the major action that will happen, rather than the result. For example, if you want to introduce a new product, we could state that objective (poorly) as “Introduce new product”. This is, unfortunately, an activity and not a result. In practice, the issue with this distinction arises when your team is under time pressure (and when isn’t that the case?). Why does time pressure make this a problem? Simply because it is easier and faster to simply undertake the action (introduce the new product) instead of taking all the steps required to actually deliver the desired result (such as making the new product commercially successful)
At Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, we used to see companies set this type of objective and then wonder why the results were poor. Since we started examining the quality of the result statement in the objective, we’ve noticed a couple of things that have greatly improved results.
First, the action plan is written around the actual intended result, rather than the activity. This means the steps in the action plan are devised to answer the question: “How do we sell $40 million of this product?” rather than: “How do we get the new product out the door?”.
Second, the management of the implementation remains focused on the result rather than the activities, and often, as the action steps are modified during execution, the revisions become more relevant to the result.
Third, the team remains focused on the result, which sometimes leads to higher priority being given to the critical result-related steps in the execution of the action plan.
The only exception I routinely see to this which yields better results is when the action-type objective is about creating a strategic capability with extremely difficult-to-measure benefits. In general, this difficulty often arises because of the cost and complexity of quantifying the costs and benefits of the capability. The objective may be acceptable as an action because it is still highly critical to, for example, maintaining or building your strategic competency.
Take a look at your objectives. If you’re like most companies, you may see some that have been stated as activities rather that results. How can you fix this? Here are a few simple steps:
- Ask WHY you want to do the activity identified in the old objective.
- Ask HOW you could do the old objective and end up unhappy with the result (and fix that).
- Ask how you could PROVE that the objective was good for your organization.
Asking these three questions almost always leads to an improvement in the results-orientation of the objective. If you’d like to see your strategic planning yield much better results, take a look at our seminars and strategic coaching services that have delivered billions in profit increases to companies like yours.
Do you struggle with writing results oriented objectives? Attend the Simplified Strategic Planning Seminar for more in-depth instruction on this subject as well as all other aspects of Simplified Strategic Planning.
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