Why Aren’t Your Strategic Goals Sensible Enough to Measure (and Execute)?

January 10, 2017 by Stacey Barr

Sometimes hard-to-measure strategic goals can be fixed in the measurement process (like how Step 2 of PuMP fixes the weasel word problem). But strategy can be hard to measure due to poor logic and poor structure, and this can’t be fixed in the measurement process. We have to go back and rework the planning process to make the strategy sensible.

If you have a hard-to-measure strategic goal like ‘Enhance the productivity of our team’, oftentimes you can solve the measurability problem by defining, in plain language, what you really mean by ‘productivity’. Then it becomes more obvious how to measure it.

But many times I’ve come across strategic plans that prove much harder to find meaningful measures for. And if you can’t measure it, rest assured you won’t be able to execute it either. Then there’s no point to having it: cynicism will fester and resources will be flushed down the toilet.

There are a few clues that will tell you if your strategy truly needs to be reworked before there’s any hope of measuring it and executing it successfully.

A lack of structure and clear labels.

A list of goals is not a strategy. Goals are not projects. And measures are not actions. An overarching structure needs to hold all the pieces of a strategy together as a gestalt, and with a consistent palette of labels that each have a distinct meaning.

For example, a good strategy might start with just three strategic themes. Then each theme might have two or three strategic goals. Each strategic goal might then have a few measures, and a few initiatives. Each of these labels (themes, goals, measures, initiatives) relate to one another, and have distinctly different meanings. It all makes sense, and so it’s easier to measure and execute.

Too many pieces or layers.

While a structure is critical for a sensible strategy, too much complexity isn’t. To have an overarching tagline, then some strategic themes, then priorities, and goals, with objectives, and key results, … is just too much. People will get lost in it and not really know what to give their attention to. And we have no idea which bits are supposed to be measured.

Strategy is about the changes most important to focus on. The key to making a strategy work well is what we leave out of it, much more so than what we include. Clean, sharp focus is measurable and executable.

Strategic goals are convoluted.

When I’ve unpacked strategic goals with clients, often we find that one goal is really saying the same as another goal. The duplication snuck through because they weren’t specific enough when they wrote their goals to pick up the redundancy.

And we also frequently find that a single goal unpacks into several, many of which are the operational solutions to the real goal. You can see this in the grammar of the goal statement: ‘achieve blah through this, that and the other’.

Strategic goals are completely action-oriented.

If a strategy is a collection of actions, like projects and programs and initiatives, it isn’t a strategy. A good strategy is about results; about the different or changed or improved levels of performance the organisation wants in the outcomes it delivers. The problem with actions is that they all too easily consume resources without delivery the outcomes most needed.

We have to start with the results or outcomes that we want to be better, first. Then we can choose actions to achieve them. But only after we’ve also locked down those results and outcomes with measures of their current level of performance (and possibly targets of the level of performance we want).

Take an honest look, now.

Is your strategy for 2017 sensible enough to measure and execute, or does it have one or more of these problems? If it does, it’s better to go back and redesign it than it is to go forward and hope for the best.


Does your strategy have any of these problems, making it near impossible to measure and execute? Or is it solid? If it’s solid, what strategic planning methodology do you use?

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