Creating a strategic plan for a business is a challenging task, but it is an inevitable part of building a successful enterprise. A business without a well-laid-out strategic plan finds itself struggling to recover in times of crisis. On the other hand, as long as you have a plan, you have direction. To create a strategic plan that is easier to implement and stick to, you need to specify your strategic objectives and strategic focus areas. These are the pillars on which your strategic plan is built.
So, the more robust your strategic focus areas and objectives are, the more effective your plan will be.
What is a strategic focus area?
When you are building your strategic plan, the first thing that you need is a vision. Your vision statement tells you what you ultimately want to achieve as an organization, and the strategic plan is supposed to spell out the steps to be taken to achieve that vision. Therefore, your strategic focus areas are an expansion of your vision statement.
There may be different focus areas for a company to drive value and ensure its continued success in the future. These focus areas are the areas that the company plans to work on in a particular phase of strategy building to help achieve the objectives that it has set for itself.
For example, an automobile manufacturing company with a vision “To be the biggest electric vehicles’ manufacturer in Asia” can have the following strategic focus areas –
- Promote electric vehicles in the Asian market.
- Offer competitive pricing against fuel-powered vehicles.
- Reduce production costs.
- Reduce carbon footprint from manufacturing plants.
This is just an example of what strategic focus areas can look like. Depending on the goals of a business, the relevant focus areas can be determined. There is no prescribed limit to the number of focus areas a company chooses to work on. It will, however, depend on its capacity. Adding too many strategic focus areas can often overburden the people working in the company. Also, too many focus areas mean that you wouldn’t be able to give due attention to any of them, and so the primary purpose of having focus areas is lost.
Your strategic focus areas should be few and manageable. They should be easy to remember and chosen based on priority. On average, a company has 3 to 6 strategic focus areas. Of course, you could have more, but that would likely have an impact on performance.
What are strategic objectives?
The strategic objectives in your strategic plan are the more specific outcomes that you wish to achieve. The strategic focus areas outline the areas on which you need to work to attain the company’s vision. The strategic objectives define what exactly you want to achieve in that focus area. These objectives have to be clear, measurable, and time-bound. These specific, measurable results, once realized, are replaced by other objectives. Achieving each strategic objective is a clear indicator of the progress of the strategic plan and tells you that you are moving closer to your vision.
Consider the example of the automobile manufacturer again. One of their strategic objectives may be ‘reducing emissions by 5% in the next 3 years.’ Or ‘bringing 1 million followers to their social media pages within the next 6 months for better market reach’. But, again, these are measurable goals and have a deadline, making them very specific.
So, the strategic goals tell you exactly where you need to be in the next X years.
The number of strategic objectives you should pick will also depend on your company’s capabilities, similar to strategic focus areas. If you choose too few objectives, you will be missing out on opportunities and not stretching yourself too far. On the other hand, if you select more objectives than you can handle, you may not be able to achieve some of them. Again, an optimum number is usually 3 to 6 objectives for every focus area.
How to develop your strategic focus areas?
When you develop your strategic plan, the usual direction is to start with the Mission, Vision followed by the Values and then the strategic focus areas. In determining your focus areas, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
- Keep your focus area short and simple
Your focus area should not have too many words making it a long paragraph that no one can remember. We’ve already emphasized that focus areas should be easy to remember so that all your employees know what they are working on and don’t lose track often. It may be challenging to sum it up in 5 to 6 words initially, but you should take your time to refine further and rephrase it to fit within that length.
Also, avoid using any jargon. Instead, the language should be unambiguous and straightforward so that everyone in the organization can easily understand what is to be achieved.
- Don’t make it too specific
For specifics, you will have your strategic objectives later. A strategic focus area is not meant to include any metrics or timelines generally. Instead, the focus area should give you a relatively broader idea about what outcomes you are trying to achieve.
- Don’t leave it too vague
When we say let it be broad, we do not mean vague. A focus area, though defined broadly, should still be focused. Using terms that do not give a clear idea of what exactly you are working towards will be of no use to the business. For instance, ‘become the best automobile company’ is quite vague and impractical. Best automobile company in which region? Best in terms of what? Being too broad leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
So, even if you don’t have to add specifics, you still need your focus areas to be well-defined.
Choosing the right focus areas for your business
For a business to shortlist a handful of areas to focus on may not be as easy as it sounds. There are so many things that you may want to change or improve. Deciding which ones to pick and which ones to leave out at the moment can be a difficult choice. Everything seems essential initially. But you can have only as many as 5 to 6 strategic focus areas at a time to successfully work on them.
So, to make things easier, you need to decide what matters for the business right now. Narrow down your focus areas based on the company’s immediate needs. There may be other important things as well, but if they can wait, they should be left for later. In case of an emergency at any stage, you can always make adjustments to the plan when needed.
If you are still unable to decide which areas need immediate attention, you can break them down into different categories. Some of these categories could be –
- Profit/ revenue/ cost
- Growth/ market share/ expansion
- Employee satisfaction/ engagement
- Customer relationship
- Product development/ innovation/ digital transformation
- Social/ environmental responsibility, etc.
You could have several other categories based on your company’s functions. When you have categorized things into these different groups, it becomes easier to tell which focus area needs your attention first.
Aligning your strategic focus area to the vision
When choosing a focus area, it is absolutely essential to ensure that it aligns with the organization’s vision. This means you need to make sure that achieving what you are planning in each of your focus areas will take you closer to the vision. If you think the two are not aligned, you might need to reconsider your chosen focus areas.
In some cases, you may also need to revisit your organization’s vision. For example, if you are sure that the focus areas are essential to the organization’s success, then maybe your vision statement isn’t accurate enough.
In either case, you should not hesitate to go over everything repeatedly until you are sure the focus areas and the vision are pointed towards the same outcomes. Your strategic focus areas should also take into consideration the organizational values. They should reflect the values that the organization stands by. This helps avoid a conflict between the values you abide by and the actions you take.
How to develop your strategic objectives?
Just like your strategic focus areas, your strategic objectives should also be as short and straightforward as possible. Everyone should be able to comprehend them and remember what they are trying to achieve. Using no jargon, keeping the sentences short and succinct, including the necessary details in as few words as possible – these are the basic requirements for framing a perfect strategic objective.
For your objectives to be of use and successful, they must be SMART. This means your strategic objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
- Specific – Specific means your objectives should tell precisely how much of what you are trying to achieve.
- Measurable – Measurable means that you should have the ability to gather data and measure the outcomes to determine if the objective has been achieved.
- Achievable – An achievable objective is something that is realistic and takes into account the organization’s capabilities, and available capacity to fulfill the objective.
- Relevant – Relevant means the objective should be meaningful and relevant to the organization’s mission and vision.
- Time–bound – Time-bound objectives have a defined deadline which tells when you are expected to achieve the objective.
Choose objectives based on your unique strategy
You may want to refer to the strategic objectives of other organizations or your competitors in the industry to get a clearer idea of what your objectives should be. But it is important to remember that different organizations can have distinct goals and strategies even within the same industry. So, your strategic objectives should not be chosen based on the industry you are in. Objectives should instead be selected based on your company’s vision and strategy.
It would be best to determine the changes that need to be made in your organization to implement your strategic plan successfully. Identify the problems that exist within the organization and research the best ways to solve those problems. You don’t need to have solutions yet. But having an idea of what it needs to solve the problems and bridge the gaps will tell you whether the objective will be achievable with your available resources.
Once you have identified issues to be addressed in your focus areas and assessed your organization’s readiness to address those issues, you can then set the strategic objectives you have to achieve.
Make sure to cover all four perspectives
An organization is always supposed to look at things from four different perspectives, such as defined in the Balanced Scorecard method. These four perspectives are – internal processes, financial, customer and people. So, when you are laying down your strategic objectives, you have to consider all four perspectives and identify opportunities in each of these.
From the financial perspective, one of your objectives may be to ‘Cut down production cost by at least 2% in the next 2 years,’ say. From the people perspective, you may want to ‘Train 50 employees to use a design software within the next 1 year’. These are examples of how you can have different strategic objectives from different perspectives within your focus areas.
Who takes responsibility for the strategic objectives?
This depends more often than not on the size of your organization. For a small business with very few employees, the responsibility of overseeing that the strategic objectives are achieved falls upon the leaders themselves. On the other hand, you may not have a large managerial team to delegate responsibilities to in a small business. So, as the leader, you are accountable and responsible for ensuring the fulfillment of the objectives for them.
For larger organizations, though, the responsibility can be distributed. For example, if you have several different strategic objectives in your distinct focus areas, you could assign a few objectives or a particular focus area to each team. The strategic objectives should be co-owned by the team manager and yourself, as the leader. Having too many managers working on a single objective is not advisable or ideal because it usually causes people to become complacent. Nobody ends up owning accountability for the objective. However, the team can have as many people as you think would be necessary to complete the tasks at hand and achieve the objective.
Characteristics of good strategic objectives
Well-planned strategic objectives should display a few of the following characteristics.
- Having a realistic timeline
Most strategic objectives in an organization are hard to achieve in short durations. So expecting results within a year or 6 months is impractical. Instead, strategic objectives can span over 3 to 5 years. For smaller goals, you can have separate annual goals that lead up to the strategic objectives.
- Not more than 6 objectives at once
Some strategy experts do suggest that an organization can have as many as 15 strategic objectives at once. But the more objectives you have to fulfill, the more pressed for time you would be, and your team could be overwhelmed, impacting their productivity. So, particularly for smaller businesses with fewer people, strategic objectives should not exceed beyond 6 at a time to be feasible.
- Company-wide approach
Your strategic objectives should give a direction for the entire organization. Strategic objectives are not supposed to include departmental goals or individual project goals. Instead, they are supposed to provide a company-wide direction.
How DeepThink helps build your strategic plan
DeepThink has helped several entrepreneurs, business leaders, and managers with strategy, innovation, and product portfolio management. We have helped them develop and implement their strategies and deliver tangible results.
DeepThink partners with Cascade to offer a free strategy plan template that will let you develop a robust strategic plan on your own following a simple step-by-step process. We also provide free guides to assist you in navigating through the process without any hassles.
If you are looking for a solution to help you build a winning business strategy, get in touch with us today.