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January 27, 2010
Simplify your objectives
Strategic objectives are the Holy Grail of a company's being. They typically involve big plans, so the natural inclination is to compose a lengthy description of each objective.
That means strategies and tactics are often piled into the wording of the objective. That unnecessarily complicates the objective, making it less likely to be understood quickly and efficiently. Anything not understood easily is unlikely to spread.
Here's a fictitious, slightly over-the-top example of what a top-heavy objective might look like:
Understand how to create better innovation opportunities for our products by listening closely to our customers' needs through a world-class community solution that deepens our customer relationships and helps customers share and collaborate together.
That's an unspreadable objective. It lacks clarity because it tries to say everything. It's loaded with strategies and solutions. It has a poor chance of blossoming because there's nothing simple to rally behind.
A strong objective is clear and concise like a headline. An objective is an intention, as my friend Stephen Harvill says when he helps companies clarify their thinking. A comparable example is when champion tennis player says simply, "I intend to win" before heading out to a court. How she'll win is through a series of strategies and tactics.
Therefore, to create a simple objective, strip away anything that looks like an action, a program or a piece of technology. Remove anything resembling buzzwords. Get to the soul of an intention, and make it simple.
Using that approach, the complicated objective above could be rewritten to say:
Innovate using customer feedback.
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Great post, Ben. I think clarity and concise thinking is an essential aspect of any business planning. But it's hard to just spontaneously come up with a simple, clear objective. I view it as a process. You write down as many thoughts as you can on the topic, and then tighten it up, reword, and boil it down to a targeted, direct statement. So, while business objectives should end up looking like your second example, many of them will start off looking like the first.
Eric -- What often happens is that people and/or organizations often do the first part but don't have the discipline, rigor or culture to demand the second part. Good that you do both.
I like to say we are..."Changing the world one napkin at a time."
Thank you. Simple works best.
This is perfect if you are holding the reins and are responsible for the direct outcomes of your strategic planning ie. if it's your company and you can do what the hell you like.
However, if you are coming up with stuff for people to present to others to justify their investment in you then inevitably there is an increased fluff production and loads of catch words which no one totally understands but pads out some paperwork and merits the bill.
I like the tennis comparison. The business version is "do things which make money".
After this starting point everything else is strategies and tactics.
Awesome advice. Especially the last part about stripping away everything down to the very basics. I have had to learn that lesson myself with my own blog over the years. It's a hard lesson to learn. But it's the truth.
Good stuff, Ben.
We are all guilty of over thinking and saying too much, complicating and clouding up a simple statement or communication as a result.
Self editing is hard, but 'Strip away' is great advice.
Great article , Ben. Thanx.
Nice and simple is always the way to go. Our company had a hard time trying to figure out what our objective is since we're an online company that has 2 different sides to it's business. We tried to make it as simple as possible for our customers- Trade your CDs, DVDs, books, and video games in for cash.
Tim is correct in saying that there are external pressures which can elongate corporate objectives. These are often as a result of third parties wanting to ensure that the objectives are dynamic and specific to the business and not just a plain vanilla statement that could apply to any organisation. In this example these pressures could be met and the clarity could be retained by adding, for example, "Be the leading innovator in the x market by being the closest to the customer".
I believe my favorite was Fed Ex's "Get it there."
Indeed I can see the difference between the first phrase objective which lacks clarity and it is a mixture. The second is clear and simple but I still do not see how you can measure it has been achieved...
Good simple coaching. Thanks for the helpful information.