How to Test if Your Strategic Goal Is Really Strategic

September 2, 2014 by Stacey Barr

When you struggle to find meaningful measures for your strategic goals, there are a few problems that have to be fixed. I’ve written passionately and prolifically about how weasel words make goals immeasurable. And there’s another problem too, called multi-focus. Multi-focus is when we blend several performance results into a single goal statement. And when this happens, you are at great risk of having a goal that isn’t truly strategic. Here’s why…

Multi-focus goals sound big and important, so much so that it’s hard to argue with them. But we should argue with them, because this multi-focus problem often means we’ve blended strategic results and operational results together. That makes strategy very bloated, difficult to cascade, and too complex to meaningfully measure.

Take this goal for example:

“The community are encouraged to improve their health and well-being through physical activity and a greater use of active transport networks.”

This sounds very important, doesn’t it? And it also sounds hard to measure. Which parts should be measured? Are all parts really strategic?

The solution is to unbundle the goal into individual and specific performance results. For the example above, these performance results could be:

  1. “The community is healthy.”
  2. “The community is physically active.”
  3. “The community uses active transport networks.”

This makes it easier to decide what to measure. But it also makes it easier to decide what’s strategic and what’s operational. We can do this by mapping the relationships between these performance results:

“The community is healthy” is the effect of the other two performance results. This cause-effect relationship helps to position the second two results as causes of the first. When you get this cause-effect relationship embedded into a single strategic goal, it suggests that the goal is actually made up of performance results that sit at different levels or tiers in the organisation.

It means that we can set the strategic goal as “The community is healthy” and cascade the other two performance results as operational goals. It makes sense, because the two operational performance results would naturally be the responsibility of one or two divisions of the organisation. They would own these results, as goals within their own divisional plans.

So unbundling those multi-focus strategic goals into specific performance results, and mapping the relationships among those performance results, is a great way to keep your strategic goals strategic, and keep it all much simpler.

TAKE ACTION:

Check your strategic plan. Does it have multi-focus goals? Spend a few minutes unbundling them into performance results, map the relationships and see if you can simplify the strategy, making it easier to cascade and measure.

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  1. Hi Stacey,
    I read with interest your blog post about unbundling multi-focus goals.
    The example given in the blog of “the community is healthy” got me thinking about causality.
    There is no doubt that the result just cited is a worthy one – and one that I can relate to from my local government context.
    There is also no doubt in the example that the unbundled result of “the community is healthy” is the key result that ought to be sought.
    The difficulty that arises is that we have the right result but muddied causality – because there are so many variables that go into whether the community is healthy – and many of the deliverables to get there are outside of the scope of my organisation and may be the responsibility of others.
    So, my organisation might be doing all the right things but the overall positive outcome might be swamped by other factors outside of our control – and these factors may be subtle, manifold and difficult to attribute in reporting on my organisation’s performance.
    Any thoughts you have on this would be gratefully accepted.

  2. Love this post.
    I had to read it twice because I’m so used to working on the Goal that I missed your laser focus (which I love) on the Performance Results.

    I immediately started reworking the goal when I saw it. Most of the people I help with strategic planning write goals like this and the first rule I impose is that we can’t have any compounds.

    The second rule is I eliminate the second clause – what usually follows the “by” or “through” prepositions. These are invariably “hows” to achieve the goal and I don’t want to muddy the waters of the goal with how the person assumes they will go about achieving it. These “hows” also have the negative that they ignore what others might be able to do (collaboratively) to achieve the goal. It also puts limits on what they might try.

    So, I would have ended up with “The community are encouraged to improve their health.”

    Here is where I usually spend time identifying the real goal – is it to encourage or is it to improve? Do we want the community to “want to improve” or do we want the health to be improved? Is “encourage” a how or is it the actual goal?

    And I love your focus on the Performance Result because I can use that as a way to answer the questions of what the real goal is. I sometimes ask, “what will it look like if you are successful?” – but I really like the way you broke it down. If the performance result is a community wanting to be healthy, our goals (and the steps to achieve them) are distinctly different than if the performance result is a healthy community.

    Of course the parent goal can be the healthy community…and a high level how could be to encourage them to desire it.

    Great post!

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