SMART objectives plus the ability to develop a strategic action plan is the third critical skill for strategic thinking. Set SMART objectives and know how you will implement them. Break down each objective into tasks and make a list of needed resources and a specific timeline for each task .
When we say “SMART objectives ”, we have something very specific in mind.
Those who’ve read our book or attended the seminar know that we support the “SMART objective”. A SMART objective has five characteristics.
Specific – you know exactly what the author wants to happen.
Measurable – you can objectively measure or assess whether the team achieved the result.
Achievable – the objective is something you can actually get done (no “stretch objectives”).
Result – the objective is a result you desire and not an activity.
Time-bound – the team must complete the objective by a deadline, to create urgency and priority.
Consequently, if your team fails to make SMART objectives, you can fail before you even start your implementation. Therefore, it pays to evaluate each objective using these criterion.
Consider this (poor) objective statement:
Make more money.
Sure, it’s kind of measurable, but it’s not specific or a result, and has no deadline. Your chances of successfully creating a meaningful plan for implementing this objective are low, and your chances of implementing that action plan are also low.
Now, let’s look at a SMART objective example.
Sell $2 million of our new Alpha service in North America by January, 2020.
Certainly, if you do this, you’ll make more money (I hope). But look at how much it helps you think about what to do in the coming months. We aren’t just going to introduce the service, we have to sell $2 million worth of it. And we specifically know where we intend to sell it, as well. These constraints make it easier to write the action plan, because we know what the steps lead to. We’ll also, naturally, be able to objectively state whether we achieved the objective or not on the deadline date.
Some people point out that we might be plenty happy if we sold $1.9 million by February.
Remember, though, even if you would be happy with less, the objective creates a clear target. If you don’t have a clear target, or if your team can’t even agree on what the target is, you will have a much harder time implementing your intentions.
The second part of this skill – being able to break the SMART objectives down to the specific task level – is simply how implementation can be well-managed.
Many organizations end their strategic planning with a simple list of objectives. Those organizations that go a step further, however, have the best results. Specifically, they identify the steps needed to complete each objective, the resources required, and the dates when those steps will be completed. While this implementation planning, is seldom super accurate after the fact, it does impose a kind of realism. This way the team realizes what is going to get done and when it will get done. It also gives you a much clearer picture of the time and money needed to achieve the objective.
Why is this a key part of strategic thinking?
Simply put, the forced realism in proper implementation planning makes the difference between a typical strategic plan and one that is well-implemented. Historically, the average company achieves about 30% of the objectives that they set without this rigorous approach. Companies using a more realistic approach with proper implementation review, however, will achieve an average of 80% of their objectives.
Do you feel you have the ability develop SMART objectives and implementation programs?
Congratulations! You have another one of the 11 critical skills for strategic thinking. Otherwise, if you’d like to learn more about strategic thinking and more specifically how to generate good objective statements and implementation programs, Simplified Strategic Planning is a great place to start. For great ideas on how to improve the quality of your planning, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning.
Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.