ATD Blog

Creating Strategic Objectives That Actually Get Implemented

Thursday, June 14, 2018

We believe it is the responsibility of leaders to not only define a clear and compelling strategic direction but also help translate the strategy into results. Most leaders agree. But survey after survey and client after client report the difficulty of consistently implementing strategies across their organization.

  • An IBM study found that less than 10 percent of well-formulated strategies are effectively executed.
  • LSA Global’s research found that middle managers are 50 percent less certain about the company strategies than the leadership team.
  • Harvard reports that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies.

Strategy Must Go Through People and Culture to Be Implemented

Strategies that do not get implemented are frustrating for leaders and their stakeholders. But even the best strategic ideas must go through people and culture to be fully implemented. To move forward, leaders must actively involve their constituents in crafting clear, feasible, and implementable plans.

3 Steps for Leaders to Create Successful Strategic Objectives

The best way for leaders to create strategic objectives that get implemented is to actively involve key stakeholders in breaking down the big strategies into discrete and measurable objectives. While this sounds rudimentary, this is where so many leadership teams fall short—they don’t know how to craft effective strategic objectives.

Without discrete and measurable objectives, there is no true guide to follow and no way to assign accountability to see things through. Follow these three steps to improve your chances.

Define Where You Are Now
First, you need to agree on the current situation with your key stakeholders. Unfortunately, this step is often minimized by leaders as they look forward to the new and exciting future while making sure not to disregard the past. Do not be fooled.

It is extremely difficult to advance new strategies unless everyone is on the same page regarding the here-and-now. Be sure to get alignment around answers to three key questions:

  • What is our current situation regarding customers, markets, products, solutions, employees, competitors, financials, leadership, and so on?
  • What are the major complications currently facing the company?
  • What are the critical implications of not successfully executing the strategic vision?

Define Where You Want to Be
You need to agree on where you are going with your key stakeholders and the rationale behind your thinking. Are you hoping to:

  • Enter new markets to diversify your offerings?
  • Create new solutions to leap-frog (or catch up to) the competition?
  • Grow your customer base through an acquisition?
  • Improve margins by changing your portfolio mix?
  • More fully engage your workforce to decrease attrition of top talent?

Whatever your ultimate goal, a successful strategy sets your organization up to succeed; it helps you perform beyond the sum of its parts.

Create Strategic Objectives
Lastly, you need to break out the overall strategy into concise objectives that align with and drive toward each strategic goal. While each strategic objective should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), the best objectives are also clear, simple, understood, believable, meaningful, and fulfilling.

The best strategic objectives can be communicated in a single sentence that begins with a verb and includes an object, a measurable unit, and a timeline. Some examples are:

  • Increase our executive sales team by two members in the next six months.
  • Improve employee engagement from 76.5 to 82.3 in 12 months.
  • Decrease attrition of “A players” by 50 percent in six months.
  • Hire and onboard 250 new employees in the next 18 months.
  • Grow our top five accounts by 18 percent by Q4.
  • Improve average client satisfaction ratings by 3 percent by the next quarter.
  • Complete the top 10 items on our product road map by the end of Q3.


From an Approach Perspective

Less Is More
Don’t create too many strategic objectives. In our work over the last 20 years helping clients craft workable strategic objectives, we have found that between two and four is the ideal number. Focus on the few critical moves that will make the most difference. Too many, and your efforts will be spread too thin and meaningful success is unlikely.

Actively Involve Stakeholders
Go slowly to go fast by designing the strategic objectives as a team. When you co-create the strategies with your key stakeholders, you engage them in the process and gain their commitment. This is not the time to work in an ivory tower; involve the team and they will feel ownership of the outcome. And with their work on the front end, it will be easier to delegate some of the responsibility for results.

Do Not Put Two in a Box
Have one owner accountable for each objective—otherwise, little will get done. It is human nature to work on tasks that have one’s name attached to them. Though you as leader will be held accountable for the entire project, you should assign responsibility for implementation of each objective.

Do not have “two in a box.” While multiple people will most likely be responsible for completing the task, have only one executive team member accountable for the results.

Expose and Track Progress
Create an effective exposure mechanism. There should be regular meetings to monitor, report on, and assess progress. Be as transparent with the organization-at-large as you can. Every single employee should have a clear understanding of the company’s strategy and their role in achieving it.

The Bottom Line

With clear, realistic, and implementable strategic objectives, you will know what actions to take. This is how leaders bring a company strategy to life.

About the Author

Tristam Brown is chairman and CEO of LSA Global, where he is responsible for the overall strategic direction and management of the company and client services. He has more than 25 years of consulting and management experience. Prior to joining LSA Global, he served as vice president of organizational strategies at Proxicom, an e-business consulting and development company, where he ran human resources, organizational development, recruiting, training, and internal communications. He also previously he served as chairman of the National Outward Bound Professional Committee and director of Outward Bound Professional for the West Coast, where he ran the corporate leadership training and consulting division for Fortune 1000 Corporations. He currently serves on the boards of Outward Bound California, the Chief Learning Office Business Intelligence Board, and Advertising Audit & Risk Management (AARM).

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