The Problem With Setting Fluffy Objectives
October 27, 2023
The Problem With Setting Fluffy Objectives

When we started The Pulse a few months ago (I can’t believe this is the 11th edition) we intended on it being a bi-weekly newsletter, highlighting thoughts and topics we’re seeing from our work with Strategy and Operations Leaders.

That is still the case.

But given the time of the year and many of the challenges we face as Strategy and Operations leaders, we’ve had more thoughts to share than normal. Maybe it’s therapeutic for me(?), but most importantly, I hope the content has been helpful for you.

Because right now the days are long for Strategy and Operations Leaders.

From ensuring your teams stay on track to close out 2023 on a high note to keeping an eye toward 2024, Strategy and Operations Leaders are tasked with striking the right balance to deliver for today and in the future. ⚖️

Earlier this fall, I shared three tips to help navigate this tight rope, and today I wanted to come back to the topic.

Mainly, to share how the momentum from closing out the year strong can (and most likely will) lead to an immediate boost heading into the new year.

Last week, I was having a conversation with a COO regarding the feedback from a strategic planning offsite they just ran with their team. Their fiscal year ends in January, so they had been wrapping up the discussion on Q3 Objectives, finalizing Q4 Objectives, and beginning work on their 2024 Strategic Plan.

There was a degree of excitement about 2024, but I would say it was tempered at best. While they've accomplished some key wins in 2023, they've also missed on some critical goals that are going to drag into Q4.

So I pressed in, asking what the general sentiment was of the team…

They shared, “We just tried to do everything. The first half of 2023 was tough, but we felt good going into Q3 and the team wanted to take on a lot of different things to help make up the gap…Ultimately, I think we just tried doing too much, and the wins we really needed just didn’t materialize.”

My immediate follow-up was, “Tell me this informed how you set Objectives for Q4?!”

Awkward Zoom silence.

So right then and there we extended the meeting, and talked about what the team is focused on in Q4 and the non-negotiables they need to deliver on as a company.

What started as a list of seven Objectives was quickly pared-down to four, and the COO was able to take that offline and set up a follow-up session with their team to connect before the end of Q3 and align on the focus areas for Q4.

While every company is different and the number of Objectives will vary, this sequence of events happens all the time.

I’m not a fan of saying ‘literally’ to prove a point, because rarely does one mean literally. But in this case I’m close to saying this literally happens with every company. Even Elate.

And it’s why prioritization is so important. Not only does it ensure you are focused on the right things, but it also allows you to double-down on the non-negotiables. Get the fluffy, nice-to-have Objectives out of the way during the process - those that we sometimes thrown in to hit a certain number for every individual to own or because we need some easy wins in order to feel good.

The truth is that these ‘easy wins’ are really just distractions.

Not only do they provide a false sense of security, but they also undermine the credibility of what we deem as “Key Objectives” for the company.

More importantly, these 'easy wins' set the tone for the following quarter, and you risk setting a bad precedent for how you build your strategy and set Objectives while also undermining the importance of the 'real' Objectives that you didn’t accomplish.

For many Leaders right now, you are either setting Q4 Objectives or in the midst of delivering on them.

If you are in the latter category, I’d encourage you to reevaluate your current Leadership Objectives. Are they all worthy of being true Objectives being actively worked on and reviewed at the Leadership level? If not, then you should elevate the mission critical Objectives for the next two months.

How can you collectively aim your energies to ensure those are successful? How can you identify underlying dependencies, objectives, or tactics to more proactively evaluate how these Objectives are trending?

This focus will set the stage for 2024. Because of that, the changes can just live at the Leadership level.

We encourage you to share any potential changes with the company. Let them know why these changes are occurring and also have some vulnerability in saying ‘We messed up and set too many objectives. Here is where our focus needs to be and why.’

This will serve as a springboard for how you go about 2024 Planning and the way you communicate the plan internally.

For those companies preparing to finalize Q4 Objectives, take a fine-tooth comb through those puppies and ensure they are the right ones.

Everything set at Leadership needs to be mission-critical. 🚀

It’s Q4; we can’t hold anything back now! If Objectives being set don’t align with moving you closer to delivering on your 2023 Operating Plan or setting the stage for your 2024 Plan, then it should raise the question of whether this is a priority.

Prioritization is always easier said than done. However, in the current economic landscape, 2024 is setting up to be a year for executing. Set clear goals that your employees can easily understand and align their work directly with the success of those objectives.

We are working with more and more Strategy and Operations Leaders, to ensure their Strategy can lead to the positive results needed to reach and exceed their Operating Plan.

The momentum you create through setting the right Objectives in Q4 will serve as a cheat code to how you enter 2024.

If you want to talk through Q4 or 2024 planning, I'd be happy to set aside some time.

The #1 Aspiring Ops episode of all-time 🎉

After finishing the 5th podcast season of Aspiring Ops, we thought it'd be fun to count down the top five episodes to date and revisit what's made them so special. (If you’re new or just catching up you can find details on 2-5 here).

Today, we've reached the mountain top. 🏔

The #1 Aspiring Ops episode of all-time is episode 38, "Making Effective Decisions While Embracing the Unknown" featuring. Jerry Limber, former VP of Strategy and Operations at ZoomInfo and current SVP of Product Strategy and Operations at Nielsen.

Jerry’s story is unique in that his professional journey actually started on the professional poker circuit ♠.

After dropping out of college at the age of 21 and pursuing his dream to make it on the professional poker circuit, Jerry spent the next seven years without a traditional job.

While his journey in professional poker ultimately came to an end, he’s seen his experience pay dividends in how he approaches his role in Strategy and Operations.

On this episode of Aspiring Ops, we hear Jerry's unlikely journey from professional poker player to leading Strategy and Operations at companies like ZoomInfo , Nielsen , and Comscore, Inc., and how his career in poker taught him to focus on the decision-making process, not the results.

Jerry’s unique perspective is also a great reminder of how success in Strategy and Operations often starts with an ability to step into ambiguous situations and find answers that others may not be able to see.

Here is a link to the entire countdown that includes recaps, takeaways, video snippets, and links to listen to the Top 5 on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. I hope you enjoyed it.

A few resources you might be interested in 📚

That's all for today. Hope you're having a great week.