Your strategic objectives are probably not unique. That’s a good thing

Illustration of man in suit searching for success with metal detector

It's always said that there are two things that everyone thinks they possess - good driving ability and a sense of humour. I'd like to add one more to that list - thinking 'their business is unique'.

After a frightening number of hours running KPI selection workshops, I realised I had a problem. To build KPIs the right way, we need to know the outcomes we are looking for - the 'strategic objectives' for the business (this is the foundation of my KPI method - the ROKS approach). The first step in every KPI workshop is to clarify what each business is working towards, so we can choose the right KPIs to deliver those outcomes. It was proving hard, really hard, to tease out those strategic objectives. Workshop teams would jump between profound objectives (for example, 'be profitable') to the detailed and low-level ('we keep resource busy with purposeful activity'). It was chaotic.

So I decided to look through the finalised strategic objectives from multiple previous workshops. A pattern started to emerge. Six objectives kept on appearing, perhaps varied in wording, but unmistakeable familiar. After some distillation, these frequent-fliers became the 'Big 6' strategic objectives.

The Big 6 strategic objectives...

Run a profitable and solvent business

A growing business 

A legal and compliant business 

An innovative business

Manage risk

A balanced quality of life

Almost all of my clients recognise and enthusiastically adopt the Big 6 as their core strategic objectives. Often they will fine-tune the wording and perhaps add one or two more objectives of their own where they are not the 'usual' kind of commercial business. The key advantage of the Big 6 is that they focus and accelerates strategic discussions. If we can swiftly agree on making a profit, having balance lifestyles , innovating and so on, we can spend more time talking about the things that really do make us unique/unusual (and thinking about how to incentivise and motivate our team) .

...but, the way you achieve your strategic objectives probably is be unique

I discovered it is the way in which my clients achieve their Big 6 objectives that usually makes them special -  here we are talking about the level of objectives just below the 'strategic objectives'. For a debt management firm a critical driver of 'Run a profitable and solvent business' might be  'We buy commercially attractive portfolios'  and it is at this lower-level that we see the most benefit from our debate and discussion.

The key point here is that many businesses share very similar end outcomes, so don't waste time re-inventing the wheel. There is no shame in wanting similar outcomes to others, it is the way in which you achieve those outcomes that will make your organisation unique, and that is where you need to spend your time and energy. A KPI Tree is the perfect way to manage that process.