Business Objectives: Strategies for Getting Them Right
Every business needs goals and objectives. After all, if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you get there? But goals and objectives are often lumped together as though they’re the same thing, and they’re not. Let’s take a look at the differences, and then seek to understand the strategies for setting objectives that will keep your organization on the right path.
First, what’s the difference? It’s generally accepted that a goal (or an aim) is an overall desired outcome, while objectives – or strategic objectives – are the building blocks that help to achieve it. For example, “dominate our industry sector,” might be a worthy goal. One of the objectives that would help you to achieve it might be to “increase our customer satisfaction rating to 95%.”
Notice two main things about that objective: it’s specific and it’s measurable. It doesn’t say “be better at customer service than our competitors” (another goal), it puts a specific benchmark to that achievement. 94% of your customers are happy? That’s pretty good, but the objective is not achieved. Put simply, strategic objectives are objective as opposed to subjective.
To be fair, there is some disagreement over these terms. Multiple websites feature lists of business ‘objectives’ that include items like “increase reliability of operations” and yes, “improve customer satisfaction.” Reasonable people can disagree, but for our purposes we’ll stick with goals and objectives as two different things.
Our customer satisfaction example lacks one important element. “Increase our customer satisfaction rating to 95% …” by next month? 2030? Somewhere in between? It’s great to know where the goalposts are, but you also need to know how much time remains on the clock. Not every objective will have a deadline; for example, if you’ve already achieved that 95% satisfaction rating, maintaining it into the indefinite future would be a worthy objective. But most strategic objectives will need a finish line.
There are limits, though, to how specific an objective should be. “Achieve a 95% customer satisfaction rating by reaching out to each client by phone and email at least twice monthly” is no longer an objective, it’s a tactic. A great rule of thumb here: objectives are about the “why” and the “what,” not the “how.”
Beware also of freestanding objectives that don’t support an established goal. “Hire five new salespeople in 4Q,” is a specific and time-measurable objective. But why? To fill those five empty desks? To support some vague vision of a growing company? If it doesn’t support a goal, it’s not a good objective. So instead, maybe: “Begin expanding into five surrounding states by hiring five new salespeople in 4Q.” Now that objective has a valid reason to exist.
Think of objectives this way: you hop in your car and ask Google Maps to navigate you to a restaurant across town. Google presumes that you want to get there as quickly as possible. Getting to the restaurant is your goal. That right turn you’ll take in a half mile is your next specific objective. And yes, there’s a timeline … your ETA, which Google will helpfully adjust as you pass each milestone. You’ll also see the names of plenty of other retail concerns on your screen as you drive, but while those might be objectives for someone else, they don’t support your goal of getting to a specific place at a specific time.
Having goals is essential for any organization. But having specific objectives to get you to those goals – and revisiting them regularly, just as Google adjusts your ETA – is how superior organizations achieve those goals.