Two Simple Exercises for Setting Sound Objectives

January 13, 2023
In part two of this series, I highlighted three human frailties many of us fall prey to when formulating an objective statement. If you remember, they are
  1. Confusing the means for the end.
  2. Prescribing a strategy or tactic in the objective.
  3. Succumbing to FOLO—the fear of leaving out.
In this essay, I offer two quick exercises to help elicit and define an objective. The first is more thorough and takes an hour or less to complete. The second exercise requires just minutes to do.  

1) Current State, Future State Exercise.

At its essence, an objective aims to achieve some kind of change. That change can be a wanted increase or decrease in something. For example, "boost store traffic." Or that change can be achieving transformation of some kind. For example, "Evolve from being known for speedy service to premium quality."
So, when it comes to composing an objective statement, it makes sense to take a moment to reflect upon the current state of the object(s) you want to change. Then envision the future state you would like to attain. In the illustration below, a home fixtures manufacturer seeks to grow sales through its brand.
First, identify the objects relevant to branding. Then describe the current state of each object. After that, depict the desired future state of the object.
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Next, identify the object that offers the most potential or is the most relevant. Finally, compose multiple objective statements and select the one that is most specific, actionable, and verifiable (SAV). To illustrate,
Be recognized by homeowners as a preferred maker of stylish and affordable fixtures, as reported in a future AAU study.

2) Finish the Sentence Exercise.

Another exercise involves painting a picture of success by finishing the sentence,
“We’ll know this initiative is a success when _________________.”
Ask this question of yourself or your team and list all the possible answers. Then select the response that offers the most potential or is the most relevant, and then write your objective statement. To illustrate, I used the same fictional manufacturer as above.  
“We’ll know this initiative is a success when _________________.”
… we're a household name.
…we are on big box store shelves.
…top home decor influencers positively review us.
…we score high in a category AAU study.
…we get an absolute NPS score of 10 or more.
…customers wear our brand.
To over-index our Net Promoter Score (NPS) category by at least 10%.


The notions I've unpacked over this three-part series regarding objectives are far from revolutionary. However, I believe being overly problem-focused has distracted us from the design power of a well-defined objective. And that was my objective before writing this series of essays: To shift people's minds back to the discipline of defining sound objectives. And your comments will let me know if I'm successful.
Click here to read essay 1/3
Click here to read essay 2/3


Glenn Deering is the Executive Director of Strategy at Latitude—a strategic design firm in Minneapolis.