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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenny

Definition of Success & Objectives - Hit the target!

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

In previous blog posts, I have opined on the importance of a shared vision and the "how" of strategy, for executive and leadership alignment on transformational initiatives. The next pillar of executive and leadership alignment is definition of success and supporting objectives.

If we call strategy the "how" we can call the definition of success and objectives the "what". For objectives, the specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based "what". The SMART acronym is ubiquitous these days and sometimes lacks the intended rigor first postulated by Doran in the early eighties. SMART is certainly not the only way to describe transformational initiative objectives, but it has stood the test of time and continues to force specificity and clarity in those objectives - and that is the goal.

Too often, I see a lack of specific and clear definition of success and supporting objectives for transformational initiatives or ambiguous objectives that are an aspirational mishmash of the vision and the strategy. An executive I worked with at Nike used to ask "what does success look like?", "what will be different?" and "how do we know when we are done?" so much so that defining success became a prerequisite to kicking off large initiatives and many meetings. These are great questions to ask, as often the transformational initiative itself or the execution of it, becomes the objective rather than the specific business or technology changes we had hoped to make. In some cases, there are no objectives per se, which is telling.

A specific and clear definition of success and supporting objectives make the results of the transformational initiative measurable. Perhaps only in-part, but measurable nonetheless. Whether it is customer satisfaction, user satisfaction or increased omni-channel sales let's be specific and clear. So then we can ask "if we are aligned on the vision and the strategy and we achieve this outcome (definition of success) and these specific objectives or results in this timeframe is that success?" The answer needs to be an unambiguous "yes" for transformational initiative executives and leaders to be truly aligned and to commit their time and resources.

So let's define success and get SMART about the objectives of transformational initiatives. Whether you chose to use Doran's method or not, remember the goal is specificity, clarity and something you can measure.

What is alignment? How do we align around an initiative? How do we know we are aligned? These are really hard questions. Questions we are answering at AlignedAround. I would welcome your thoughts.


Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.

Photo by Laura Crowe on Unsplash

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