Let’s make a bet.
The next time you’re out for drinks or dinner with some friends, I bet you can’t get someone to say the word “incendiary” within the first five minutes you’re together without coming out and directly asking.
Let’s say there’s fifty bucks riding on the outcome.
Chances are you’re already starting to think of some scenarios for how you might prove me wrong and win the bet. Who in your group even knows that word? Where would he or she use it? Are there props you could use or subjects you should raise? Do you bring someone else in on the challenge?
To be clear, this is just a hypothetical example. I’m proud of you if you succeed, but please don’t email me looking for any general grants.
The reason I present this example here is to show you how powerful a good objective can be. In fact, for all of the talk in business about strategy, in my experience it’s in the setting of objectives where clients face the biggest challenge and need the most help.
Sure, we all want to make more money, increase memberships or slow attrition, but what does that really mean? Just as with our hypothetical bet, a good objective gets the wheels turning. The obstacles become clearer. Fresh options come to mind.
Games are a perfect example of this. Think of almost any game that you play and the definition of the game is the objective. Be the first to cross the finish line. Score the most points. Take the fewest strokes.
The fun of playing a game is that we each get to figure out our own set of tricks, our strategies, for achieving the goal. Think of all of the different competitive types you know – slashers, hustlers, speedsters, cheaters, big bodies, small ball, team players and prima donnas – they’re all just different answers to the question “how do I win with the resources I have?”
By comparison when a business undertakes strategy with vague objectives it’s like playing soccer on a field without nets. There’s a lot of sweating, swearing and running around, but at the end of the day there’s no way to tell if you’re any better off than when you started.
That’s why objective setting is a central part of all of my workshops. The funny thing is that most clients start by pushing back. Objectives are boring and obvious. Of course they know what they want to do.
But the more we get into the details, the more they appreciate how vague and weak their objectives are. The process of defining goals, setting priorities and making trade-offs in creating sharp objectives is where the real heavy lifting often takes place. By the time we nail those down, the strategies are half written.
So how do you ensure your objectives are as sharp as possible?
There are three key elements. A sharp objective should include a specific set of people – your target – a definite period of time, and a measurable outcome.
Generate 35 new members from the new office park across the street before the end of January.
Double the number of women in the Tuesday-Thursday freestyle program in the second quarter.
Hopefully when you look at these the wheels already start turning, and that’s the whole point. Just as with the restaurant bet, you now have a good objective when the challenges, obstacles and opportunities come into sharp focus. You get that part right and the strategy will take care of itself.