A Guide to Writing Strategic Objectives

A Guide to Writing Strategic Objectives

Writing Strategic Objectives is probably the most fun and exciting part of creating your strategic plan. This guide will show you how to breath life into your vision and your strategy by writing the perfect set of strategic objectives.

This article is part of our mini series ‘Strategic Planning 101’.  You can download our free Strategic Planning 101 eBook which contains all of the articles from the series here:

Download Strategic Planning 101 eBook

Our most popular eBook ever! Our strategic planning guide will walk you through creating your vision statement, values, focus areas & strategic objectives.
Strategic Planning Guide

You can also find the individual articles here:

  1. Strategic Planning 101 – The Basic Foundations
  2. How to Write a Good Vision Statement
  3. Writing Your Organisational Values
  4. Creating Focus Areas for your Strategy
  5. A Guide to Writing Strategic Objectives

As always, here’s a quick recap of our strategy blueprint and how this post fits into the bigger picture (note the Strategic Objectives in the diagram below are called Organisational Goals in keeping with our methodology in Cascade.)

Strategic Planning Blueprint - Writing Strategic Objectives

What is a Strategic Objective / Organisational Goal?

Note: In our Cascade platform, we call Strategic Objectives ‘Organisational Goals’ – they are one and the same for the purpose of this article.

Let’s start by defining what it is we’re talking about here. A Strategic Objective is a specific goal that you want to achieve, with a clearly stated outcome and a deadline.  It differs from a Focus Area – in that it is specific and measurable, and once completed will be replaced by another, different goal.  In other words, it is something that can be tangibly achieved.

It is also one of the primary ‘goals’ of the organisation, underneath which many sub-goals will eventually align.

The way I like to think of a Strategic Objective is:

If I was meeting with my investors / board – what would be the key programmes / objectives that I would update them on if I only had an hour.

This is a useful way to ensure that your Strategic Objectives are neither too high level to be relevant, nor too detailed to be overly operational.

How Many Strategic Objectives Should I Have?

There is of course no right answer here – though there are certainly risks if you get the number wrong.  Too few and you’re probably not stretching yourself.  Too many and you’re unlikely to achieve them all, which should absolutely be your intent.

As a rule of thumb – if we tie Strategic Objectives into our bigger framework – we would probably suggest having between 2 and 4 Strategic Objectives, per each of your Focus Areas.

How Should I Structure a Strategic Objective?

The main advice here is to keep things simple.  Strategic Objectives should be easy to remember and should be understandable by everyone within the organisation.  That means no jargon (if possible), and keeping them to one sentence long.  You can add more detail of course, but you should be able to sum up what you want to achieve quickly and simply.

We suggest a structure as follows:

Action + Detail + Metric + Unit + Deadline

In other words:

Expand our international operations into 3 new markets by 21st December 2016

Starting off with a verb forces you to be specific about what you’re trying to do.  If you possibly can include a metric and a unit – do so.  It will help to keep you focused and honest when it comes to tracking your progress.   Having a deadline works in much the same way.

A nice thing about using this structure combined with a cloud based strategy platform is that you can do some pretty cool reporting on your goals – such as having the system analyse your ‘Action’ words to give you a flavour of how you’re approaching your strategy (Aggressively? Defensively? Etc.)

How do I Ensure Accountability?

Depending on the size of your organisation, you may want to delegate some degree of accountability for individual Strategic Objectives to your management team.  Ultimately, as the leader of your organisation’s strategy – you still need to be accountable for all of the objectives – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t share that ownership with someone else.

For Strategic Objectives, we would strongly recommend having a maximum of two co-owners for each, including yourself.  Why?  Because any more than that, and you risk falling into a situation where people become overly reliant on ‘someone else’ to own the goal.  You can absolutely involve far more people in delivery – through a series of linked (or cascaded) sub goals.  But you want at most two people being responsible for the ultimate delivery of the Strategic Objective.

Some Final Suggestions and Thoughts

Following the above outline should help get you off to a good start when it comes to writing Strategic Objectives. Here are just a few more collected thoughts to round things out:

  • Don’t be afraid to iterate.  You probably won’t get things right first time, but sometimes you need to get your Strategic Objectives out on paper to appreciate where the gaps are.
  • Involve the people of your organisation as early as possible.  Don’t sit in a room and try to do things yourself.  Define your Vision, Values and Focus Areas – and use that to help structure a broader engagement with your team about what your Strategic Objectives should be.
  • Consider publishing your Strategic Objectives on your website.  Sometimes, for reasons of confidentiality this won’t be possible – but for some organisations (such as public sector or not-for-profits) this is a great way to communicate transparently with your stakeholders.  Here’s an example of how we do this in Cascade using our API: http://www.itsmycity.me

Download Strategic Planning 101 eBook

Our most popular eBook ever! Our strategic planning guide will walk you through creating your vision statement, values, focus areas & strategic objectives.
Strategic Planning Guide

We’d love to hear your additions to this list in the comments below, or via our social media channels! Let us know what techniques you found to work well when writing Strategic Objectives.