May 6, 2013 – Most strategic and operational plans ignore the definition of strategic objectives and are nothing more than an amalgamation of task lists submitted by various executives and managers. These lists are compiled, put into a three-ring binder, and updated on a monthly or quarterly basis. Because the task lists originated from a well-orchestrated and highly energetic planning retreat, during which the management team agreed on the company’s major initiatives, we fall into the trap of believing that our work actually has benefit.
Most of the time, it doesn’t.
The definition of strategic objectives is simple: It is a business need that can be defined in quantifiable and measurable terms, which, in turn, requires we answer two simple questions.
How much? By when?
As such, to fulfill the definition of strategic objectives, the business need must be bound by both a baseline and a target (how much?), as well as time (by when?). In order to conduct appropriate strategy development, we must know the level of improvement required and how much time we have to achieve the established target. If either of these elements is missing, the ability to construct an effective strategy diminishes.
Baselines and targets – which is critical to remaining pure to the definition of strategic objectives – provide current performance and desired future performance. Time provides an indication of how aggressive the strategy needs to be. If you are unable to establish baseline and target numbers for your plan’s objectives, it is an indication that your objectives are really strategies and tactics posing as objectives in disguise, and that the objectives fail to adhere to the true definition of strategic objectives.
Implementing strategies and tactics without knowing the specific quantifiable and measurable success requirements, or the time required for achievement, is a symptom of being busy. Executing an action plan designed to achieve a pre-determined, quantifiable, and measurable, performance outcome by a specific due date is a characteristic of being strategic and falls short of meeting the definition of strategic objectives.
For an objective to be quantifiable as required by the definition of strategic objectives, it must reflect an amount of something. Most commonly, the terms used for strategic and operational planning are time, dollars, percentages, and numerical counts. Some examples:
There are many other units of measure, including length (inches or feet), mass (pounds), volume (gallon), temperature (degrees), area (square feet), heat (BTU), and pressure (pounds per square inch). Each of these can quantify and measure an objective, and thus fulfill the definition of strategic objectives, but regardless of how an objective is stated, it is important that the objective is an outcome measure, not the measure of a process designed to achieve the outcome itself.