A great strategic plan must give clear direction to the business about where it is going and how it will get there. And this starts with a great objective statement.
The objective is a written, qualitative statement describing the direction of the business by answering the question “where are we going?”. The best objective statements are clear and concise, inspiring and ambitious, yet achievable over the chosen timeframe.
Packing so much information into just one sentence is difficult. However, writing a great objective statement is critical because everything else in the strategic plan will follow its lead. Particularly when working with the OGSM methodology, it’s important to have a strong objective statement. Here is how you can craft an excellent objective for your strategic plan.
Follow These 5 Steps To Write An Objective Statement For Your Strategic Plan
While the objective is a key element of the strategic plan, it is not the first thing you do in strategic planning. Prior to writing the objective statement, first conduct an analysis of the purpose of the business and the situation it is in. The situational analysis should look into the internal and external environment of the business to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This provides the strategic context for the strategic plan.
Next, determine the timeframe for the strategic plan. This is important as the objective should describe the future state at the end of this time period. A common time frame for a strategic plan is 3-5 years, but this may vary with company purpose, the realities of the business and its industry. When writing an annual plan, the timeframe is 1 year.
Armed with the business’ current situation, set out to brainstorm the results you aim to achieve over the specified timeframe. Consider the following questions to guide your thought process:
- What are you aiming to achieve over the time period? What does success look like?
- What are customers, employees, or other stakeholders going to say about your business?
- What challenges do you have to overcome?
- What processes or competences are critical to your success?
Consolidate your thoughts to draft a one-sentence objective statement using the what-by-how method. The what-by-how method described by Marc van Eck & Ellen Leenhouts in their excellent book “The One-Page Business Strategy” structures the sentence into two parts: a ‘what’-part and a ‘how’-part. This ensures that your statement is specific and actionable. Proceed as follows.
- Write the ‘what’-part of the statement optimally in a Verb-Adjective-Noun sentence structure, including at least Verb-Noun.
- For example, “drive aggressive growth…” or “improve profitability…” or “become our customers’ first choice…”.
- Write the ‘how’-part as a description of what you will do to achieve the ‘what’-part of the statement. Start the ‘how’-part with “by”.
- For example, “…by launching new products in the consumer category” or “…by consolidating our tool brands into a leading home improvement business“ or “…by putting our customer at the center of everything we do”.
See the “what-by-how” method explained in this short YouTube video.
Finally, review the objective statement and make sure it does not leave anything unwanted or unsatisfied. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Is the statement clear and concise?
- Is it specific and understandable?
- Does every word in the statement have a purpose? Delete any ambiguity or redundancy.
- Is the statement ambitious and inspiring?
- Does the objective stretch the organization?
- Does it rally the team and inspire action?
- Is the statement achievable in the time frame?
- Does the objective sound realistic?
- Is the statement rooted in the realities of the business?
- Is the objective congruent with vision and mission of the business?
- Does it fit with the business’ internal and external situation?
If you have followed these steps, then your objective should be quite specific and spell out in no unmistakable terms what you are aiming to achieve over the chosen time horizon and how you are going to get there.
Examples of Objective Statements
Now that we have discussed how to write the objective, let’s look at some really good examples.
Consider a company producing shoe cream that wishes to diversify its offering. The objective of its strategic plan might read:
“Become the recognized category leader in up-market shoe cream by expanding our existing portfolio of shoe treatment products and developing new, exclusive channels to market.”
Or alternatively consider a very innovative mobile phone brand with high growth ambitions.
“Double our market share in solar-powered mobile phones by developing more efficient miniature-sized solar panels and expanding our retail footprint in Utopia.”
Note that each of these examples has a clear articulation of the “what”-part of the objective statement and two clear aspects of the “how”-part. The statements are clear and concise. You can argue that they are ambitious and inspiring (becoming the recognized category leader, doubling the market share). And if you are a company in these respective spaces already, it seems realistic to achieve those objectives.
On the flip side, here are some examples of objective statements which might not be effective for strategic planning.
- “Deliver growth”
- “Make the numbers”
- “Implement the project”
Note that all of these statements follow the Verb-Noun sequence and are actionable. However, the statements are not specific, I don’t find them particularly inspiring, and they also do not articulate how we will achieve the objective. How about the following instead?
- “Be great by delivering awesome service”
- “Run the company by empowering the employees”
Both of these statements follow the “what-by-how” approach. In the first statement, however, it is not clear what “being great” means and “awesome service” is very ambiguous. The second statement does not read like a strategic direction for the future but more of an operational guidance for today.
Some of these statements are quite simplistic. I purposefully chose them though to clearly illustrate what a good objective statement looks like. And don’t laugh, but I have actually seen a couple of those latter ones in practice!
When creating the objective statement for your strategic plan, it is paramount that all stakeholders understand and agree with the objective and the strategic context within which it is nestled.
The strategic plan is built to support achieving the objective of the business. If there is doubt in the organization whether the right objective is chosen or if parts of the objective are unclear, then the entire strategic plan might be in doubt. It’s worth investing in making sure that all key stakeholders are in agreement.
In addition, note that the objective is not the company vision or mission statement or an open-ended dream. The objective spells out a concrete, attainable result within a specified time frame, e.g. 3-5 years, while the vision may be a longer term aspiration. The objective may however very well be a priority or major milestone in the pursuit of your longer term vision. In fact, for annual business plans, I personally like to think of the objective as being a focus area for the year as I aim to realize my vision.
Common Mistakes With Strategic Objectives
When writing your objective statement, look out for the following common pitfalls.
- Objective is unclear
- It sometimes runs in human nature that when we think of strategy that we use big words and formulate very ambitious plans. Check for clarity though. Being ambitious and pushing the boundaries of what is possible is great when everyone in the business understands what is expected of them. Large, ambiguous terms may need to be defined or specified if necessary.
- Objective includes the ‘what’ but not the ‘how’-part or vice versa
- The objective statement is most clear and actionable when both aspects of the ‘what-by-how’ approach are considered. Check whether you spot the word “by” in your statement as an indicator whether anything is missing.
- Objective does not fit with the scope or priorities of the business
- This might sound obvious but I have experienced this in practice. Choose an objective that does not run counter to the purpose of your business or conflicts with its values, vision or mission. In fact, ensure that the objective is well aligned and contributes to their realization.
- Objective is not ambitious enough and therefore does not inspire action
- If the objective of a 3-5 year strategic plan is achievable within 6-12 months, it is not ambitious enough and will not inspire the organization to take action. Challenge yourself to large objectives that require step change instead of incremental modifications.
- Objective is a laundry list of projects or initiatives
- The objective statement should not be a to-do list of current projects. Double check to make sure the objective is not too operational but aims into the 3-5 year future.
- Objective is too long
- If you realize that the objective statement is wrapping too many lines and begins to enumerate too many ‘hows’, consider reviewing whether you are setting the right priorities. The longer the statement, the larger the risk that clarity, congruence and realism are lost.
When following the 5 steps of writing an excellent objective statement above, you should have no trouble at all with avoiding falling into any of these common traps.
Where to go from here?
A strong objective statement is key to the success of your strategy as it defines the direction for your business.
The objective is the O in OGSM and sets the tone for everything else that follows in the OGSM methodology. Once you have defined your objective, continue here to learn about how to set effective goals for your OGSM.
If you would like to learn more about the OGSM, continue here.
Do you have any questions or feedback? We’d be happy to hear from you via the comment box below.
Van Eck, Marc & Leenhouts, Ellen (2014.) The 1 Page Business Strategy – Streamline Your Business Plan In 4 Steps. Pearson Benelux.