A fundamental step in the process of strategic planning oriented toward results is detailing a vision of the future, a strategic vision, or simply a vision in the form of a set of objectives that translate to employees what the organization wants to pursue and intends to achieve.
The strategic objectives are, therefore, the results that the organization intends to achieve within a certain time frame, usually a year. They are part of what I call in my classes and lectures “the backbone of strategic planning.”
As can be observed in Figure 1, from the strategic objectives are derived indicators and goals, on the one hand, and strategic initiatives and action plans, on the other.
Minimally, the objectives should cover questions of financial performance, customer satisfaction, operational performance, and employee satisfaction and well-being. If possible, they should also consider issues of social and environmental responsibility.
Strategic objectives should be stated as precise targets and focus the performance indicators that make possible the measurement of company results.
In the process of detailing the objectives, it is important that quantifiable aspects of management (e.g., market share, total turnover, number of clients) be identified, which can then be measured by indicators. This way, the results can be evaluated at the monthly critical analysis of organizational performance meetings.
In order to avoid confusion between strategic objectives and strategic initiatives or actions, I always recommend to my students that objectives be written using past participles, while initiatives and actions be written using infinitives. Strategic initiatives and strategies cover “what to do,” while actions cover “how to do.”
Some examples of strategic objectives, using my writing “strategy”:
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Reduced production costs
- Employee training developed
- Extended profitability
- Environmental responsibility implemented
For the strategic objective “increased customer satisfaction,” we could have, for example, the strategic initiative “develop market research,” which would be the what-to-do to achieve the objective. For the how-to part, i.e. the action plan, we could have “identify companies that develop market research,” “request proposal,” “analyze proposals received,” “check budget availability,” “decide which research company will be hired,” “elaborate research project,” “apply research,” “tabulate results,” “analyze results,” “prepare presentation to the board,” “submit search results to the board,” and so on.
Strategic objectives play a key role in planning and management, insofar as they:
- focus the attention of all employees on the essence of achievement,
- remain stable over the time frame (generally one year),
- deserve considerable effort and commitment from all parties,
- are concise about their ends, flexible in terms of their means, and always leave room for innovation, and
- require wide dissemination among employees to build staff motivation.
Though it is advisable to keep strategic objectives stable throughout the year, I have had to review them within a shorter period of time, due to sudden environmental changes. If an adjustment in objectives is necessary, due to unmet expectations from the beginning of the year, the adjustment can be made at the end of the first semester, so as to modify the objectives in keeping with the new perspective for the remainder of the year.
Objectives differ in terms of breadth (organizational space) and horizon (time). Longer-term strategic objectives can be refined later into tactical-operational objectives. This refining of objectives allows for their implementation through tactical-operational plans, or what I call action plans.