The foundation of strategic planning involves developing the most effective and efficient way to achieve an objective.
A clear objective forms the foundation of every strategy.
However, most people and companies set objectives poorly. They define objectives in an overly narrow way.
I’ve had many clients come to me with a strategic objective to grow their sales to $10 million.
I often ask, “What is your objective in aiming for $10 million in sales?”
My client will say, “Well at $10 million in sales, our net income would be $1 million.”
In this case, the objective was $10 million in sales.
The “objective of the objective” was $1 million in profits.
One way to test this thinking is to ask yourself: if you “failed” to achieve your “objective,” but you achieved the “objective of your objective,” would you consider that a failure or a success?
If you didn’t generate $10 million in sales, but you did generate $1 million in profit, would that be a failure or a success?
You can repeat the process multiple times.
Why do you want to generate $1 million in profits?
I want to be able to sell my business for $10 million.
(That’s the objective of my objective’s objective.)
So if you sold your business for $10 million, but didn’t generate $1 million in profit, would you consider that a failure?
This applies to career choices too.
If your goal is a McKinsey offer, what’s the goal of your goal?
If you want a McKinsey offer so you can get into Harvard Business School, what if you got into Harvard without getting into McKinsey?
You can see how the process can be repeated multiple times.
In many cases, it can be easier to achieve the objective of your objective than it is to achieve the original objective itself.
This provides you with more avenues by which to achieve your true underlying objective.
In addition, many people who achieve their surface objective are unhappy.
This occurs because they achieved the surface objective without achieving the “objective of their objective.”
When you drill down to understand your true underlying goals, you reduce this risk.
Incidentally, I and others call this line of reasoning “pressure testing your thinking.”
It is one of the skills a good CEO will possess. It’s also a skill that good CEOs look for in others.
A good CEO anticipates that she will make some mistakes. It’s enormously helpful when the CEO’s direct reports are invited and encouraged to pressure test her thinking. She will undoubtedly return the favor and pressure test their thinking too.
This is one of many high-level skills in the CEO skill set.
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