In this article I’m going to define strategic goals and strategic objectives, share best practice examples you can use, as well as how strategic goals and strategic objectives are successfully used in the development of a strategic plan.

There are two common mistakes leaders make when selecting strategic goals and objectives:

– First, they do not select a balanced set of strategic goals and objectives.
– And second, leaders select too few or way too many strategic goals and objectives.

The negative impact for leaders like you not selecting a balanced set of strategic goals and objectives is being vulnerable to blind spots by not being able monitoring the overall health of the organization’s performance, from 360-degree views.

Strategic Goals Defined

So, let’s get started by first defining Strategic goals. Strategic Goals are the foundational pillars required for your organization’s short- and longer-term success. You should select a balanced set of strategic goals that will allow you and your leadership team, high level “views” of your organization’s performance from different perspectives or angles.

Strategic goals are often referred to as perspectives, pillars, critical success factors, or just plain goals. It does not matter what name you use, as long as everyone within your organization has a common understanding of its purpose.

How Many Strategic Goals

Successful strategic plans that are easy to develop, deploy, predictably achieve outstanding results include only 4 or 5 key strategic goals. Less than four and you are not going to have enough “views” of your organization’s performance, and greater than 5 makes it hard for everyone within your organization to remember and understand, how they contribute to the successful achievement of your strategic goals.

For example, recently I was asked by city manager of a large organization to access their current strategic planning efforts, and identify what has worked well and not so well, by interviewing employees from throughout the organization.

The results were very predictable. Less than half of the employees know the city even had 10 strategic goals. And of those that knew there were ten, not a single person could name all 10.

Strategic Goal Best Practices

When selecting your strategic goals, I always suggest you begin by leverage the research findings of the bestselling book, The Balanced Scorecard, written by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, first published in 1992. The authors conducted a retrospective study of thousands of organizations and identified why some organizations survived through difficult economic cycles and others failed.

Their research discovered organizations who not only survived, but prospered, their leaders led their organization differently. They developed a strategic plan using a “balanced” set of perspectives, or views to monitor their organization’s performance from different angles – what the authors called a “Balanced Scorecard”.

The original balanced scorecard framework recommended four perspectives to access and measure an organizations overall health: They included a Financial, Customer, Business processes, and a Learning & Growth strategic goals or perspectives.

The Balanced Scorecard book was and is still today an international best seller. It has transformed how leaders in all industries develop and execute their strategies and has been called the world’s preeminent strategy management system used in governmental, non-profits, and for-profit organizations.

How To Identify Your Strategic Goals

When identifying your strategic goals, I recommend a two-step process. First, start with the four strategic goals or “views” suggested in the balanced scorecard framework, but re-naming them to reflect today’s current business environment, your unique needs, and to improve understanding throughout your organization.

Second step is to add a single word before or after each of your strategic goal to signify action or direction. For example,

  • A Finance strategic goal could be – Fiscal sustainability
  • Customer strategic goal could be – Customer Engagement
  • Internal Business Processes to Operational Excellence
  • And a Learning and Growth strategic goal could be Team Engagement

Of course, these are just examples for you to consider and your needs will vary based upon your industry. The most important choice for you is to select a balanced set of strategic goals. Don’t over think this step – just make sure you select balanced set of strategic goals that address your finances, your team, your operations, and your customers.

Strategic Objectives Defined

Next let’s define strategic objectives. Strategic Objectives are the key outcomes you desire to achieve within each of your 4 to 5 strategic goals. For example, what do you want to improve, increase, or decrease within each strategic goal?

When selecting your strategic objectives, there are five key characteristics you should consider – They should be: Important, Actionable, Measurable, Achievable, and have a longer-term view. So, let’s quickly go through each.

You should select strategic objectives that are important to the success of the strategic goal it is aligned to AND will positively contributes to the achievement of your other strategic goals.

You want to select strategic objectives that are actionable, and you can make positive impact on. Do not select strategic objectives that are not within your span of control, or you don’t have the ability to influence its outcome.

All strategic objectives must be measurable and have performance measures aligned to each, so you are able to track your progress towards achieving the stated outcomes. If you cannot measure it, it’s not a strategic objective.

Select strategic objectives should be achievable with effort and process improvement. If your team believes the strategic objectives are not important, not actionable, or achievable, they will put little or no effect in trying to improve performance and achieve the strategic objective.

Number Of Strategic Objectives

The number of strategic objectives you select for each strategic goal will depend on the size, industry, and complexity of your organization. A good rule of thumb is select between 3 and 5 strategic objectives aligned to each of your strategic goals.

How To Write Strategic Objectives

Next let’s talk about how to write your strategic objectives. The best strategic objectives are brief statements, normally only 2 or 3 words, describing what you want to achieve. Strategic Objectives should begin with a verb to describe action or direction, such as Improve, reduce, maximize, minimize, grow, or decrease – and is followed by a noun…a person, place, thing, or idea.

Don’t over think this process and get stuck word smithing with your team. Just brainstorm with your team, what do you want to increase or decrease within each strategic goal. Then prioritize the list to the top 3 to 5 per goal. To help you get started, let me give you some examples of strategic objectives.

Examples strategic objectives for a customer goal might include:

  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Decrease customer dissatisfaction

Examples of strategic objectives for an operations goal might include:

  • Reduce error rates
  • Increase response times
  • Increase productivity

Examples of strategic objectives for a workforce goal might include:

  • Increase employee safety
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Increase employee retention

And examples of strategic objectives for a finance goal might include:

  • Increase sales revenue
  • Decrease Overtime Cost
  • Reduce Cost Per 1,000

Strategic Goals & Objectives In Your Strategic Plan

With the understand what strategic goals and objectives are, next let me share how both are used in the development, deployment, and execution of your strategic plan. Here is our three step Strategy Execution PRO system I’ve used to help hundreds of leaders from all types of organizations successfully develop, execute, and achieve world class outcomes.

Step 1 – strategy development is where you will create a one page, strategy scorecard that includes 7 key elements = your strategic goals and strategic objectives, as well as performance measures, columns to document your monthly and YTD performance, required target levels, key challenges to achieve your key outcome results, and actions required to close gaps and achieve the key outcomes you are accountable for achieving.

Step 2 – Strategy Execution is where you will deploy your strategy scorecard by creating department levels scorecards, that will include your strategic goals and objectives, as well as performance measures, target levels and actions, the leaders who report to you are accountable for achieving.  

Step 3 – Strategy Improvement, is where you will conduct monthly strategy scorecard meetings to review your performance results by each of your strategic goals and objectives, celebrate your successes with your team, and identify and close performance gaps to quickly achieve the results your accountable for. 

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