One of the most common mistakes in Objective definition is to focus on activities rather than results. Objectives, like performance measures, are concerned with results. It is essential to frame objectives in results-oriented language, this forces us to think more precisely about what we are actually trying to achieve. For example, if we look at a typical objective that is often used: ‘Implement a sales plan’ this may seem as a very sensible thing to do but it is not a performance objective. It is an activity that can only be measured through the time it takes to implement the plan. It will tell us nothing about success or failure of the plan relative to the business strategy.
[Important note: Activities, plans and projects are important. They are the means by which we implement change to make improvements; the purpose of this article is to make a distinction, not to promote one above the other]
We therefore need to think about objectives in terms of results. The previous example might be more useful if it included why we want to implement a sales plan. It may be ‘to reduce the sales cycle’. This is still a bit vague and may be still better expressed as ‘to reduce the time taken to convert a qualified lead into a sale’. This is much better and has produced and objective with a tangible result. This also illustrates the need to bring clarity into the language we use to create our objectives. That is, what are we actually trying to achieve?
In business we have a tendency to use words and phrases like ‘improve, satisfaction, more effective, improved quality, successful implementation, increased efficiency, greater productivity’. Although the implied meaning behind these words and phrases is positive, the actual meaning is vague. Objectives using these words do not address the need to be results-oriented and therefore will always fall short if used when related to performance improvement. It is always better to use words that have common meaning and cannot be vaguely interpreted.
Using words that relate to how we physically perceive things in the world is a good technique to sense-check you are on the right track. For example using our previous objective ‘reduce the time taken to convert a qualified lead into a sale’ if we think about how we would physically perceive this, it would almost certainly take us down the route of asking the question; in what time-scales do we mean? This in turn would lead to a more succinct expression that would include a physical parameter, for example: ‘reduce the number of days to convert a qualified lead into a sale’. We now have an objective that describes a result, has clarity in interpretation and in this case has a time parameter.
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At this stage it is not important to go so far as including a target within the objective. It would have been easy to express our example as “reduce the number of days to convert a qualified lead to a sale from 30 to 25’. Targets are the domain of the measure rather than the objective.
An objective should contribute to an overall strategy, and be a single objective and not several under the guise of a single objective and finally it should be something that is important and you feel is in need of serious attention.
The key things to check are:
1. Will it contribute to your company/organisation strategy?
2. Is it important and will it make a difference?
3. Is it a single objective?
4. Do you have some level of control to influence the result?
5. Is it something that can be measured?
For more information on the development of successful objectives take a look at SEVEN the Intrafocus methodology to develop successful performance measures.