How To
14 min read

How To Write Business Objectives (And Why You Should)

Cheri Defonteny

October 31, 2022

We’ve all heard the old adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. That wisdom applies to many things in life but is especially true in business.

We intend to successfully keep the organization up and running, pay our employees a fair wage, and keep a roof over our heads. To do that, we need a plan, and the kind of plan we’re going to focus on creating today is the business objective. In this article, we’ll look at business objectives—what they are, why they’re important, and how to write them.

If you check with the trusty Merriam-Webster, you’ll see that a plan is “a method for achieving an end,” which means plans can’t exist in a vacuum. They can only help you reach a destination you already have in mind. The good news is that most companies are good at knowing where they want to go and establishing those goals. 

The next step is detailing how you will get to those goals, and that’s where business objectives come in. 

Outlining Business ObjectivesClipboard with a list to be filled in of key performance indicators

Image Source

What are business objectives?

Simply put, business objectives are an organization's actions to achieve its particular goals. 

But wait. How can objectives help achieve a goal? Aren’t they the same thing? 

Not quite.

Imagine you’re standing on a beach in the Pacific Ocean and you suddenly declare you intend to stand on a beach in every major ocean in the world this year. That’s a lofty goal, but simply saying it isn’t likely to make it happen. You’ll need some detailed planning to get it done, most likely starting with a lot of maps.

Likewise, you might know your company wants to double profits in the next five years, or become the number one widget producer in the country, but knowing you want to do it is a long way from knowing how to get it done.

Business objectives are a map to help you reach your goals. They help you lay out the detailed steps you’ll want to take along your path and keep you on course.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume company goals have already been established, though sometimes an organization may conduct massive planning sessions to establish all goals and objectives simultaneously. 

A business objective isn’t just another buzzword—formal objectives have a real purpose, and you need to know what they are and why they matter so your organization can make the most out of them. So let’s break them down a bit more thoroughly.

Business objectives:

  • Define what success looks like by identifying specific tasks necessary to achieve the overall goal, how a company plans to complete those tasks, and the desired timeline.
  • Determine what resources should be allocated to reach each goal and how outcomes will be measured. 
  • Clarify what each employee should be working toward every day so everyone is on the same page about their role in achieving company-wide objectives.
  • Enable companies to align their strategies with customers' needs by identifying growth opportunities. 
  • Help companies stay focused on their strategy by making sure all employees share a common understanding of where the company wants to go in the short term (one year), medium term (three years), and long term (five years).

As you can see, a lot is riding on getting this right. When you determine the objectives for your business, you're setting the course for all the goals you hope to accomplish.

These might include big goals like increasing profits or improving employee retention, or smaller items like creating a new training course or restructuring employee schedules. However, no matter what your goal is, your business objective should always be measurable, actionable, and realistic. 

How do you create and use business objectives?

The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Identify the overarching goal the objective will support.
  2. Outline the key tasks necessary to achieve the goal.
  3. Use the SMART format to create effective objectives.
  4. Include the finalized objectives in your official business plan.
  5. Work through each objective on your way to success.

Now let’s look at that process a bit more thoroughly.

Writing business objectives

The first and most important step in creating your objectives is to ensure you understand the overall company goal. If you’re in California trying to get from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, you probably don’t want a map that leads you to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Once your goal has been identified, then you can outline the key objectives to reach that goal.

Remember that you don’t want to get bogged down with an extremely long list of objectives. A handful should be more than enough for each goal—even fewer if it’s a smaller goal or if your organization is establishing objectives more frequently than annually. Remember that these are detailed plans you’re creating, so don’t expect a proper objective to be a simple task you complete in an afternoon.

But however many objectives you’re creating, you want them to be SMART. Let’s see how you get there.

Bullseye target with arrows pointing toward it labeled with SMART acronym. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

Image Source

What is a SMART objective?

SMART is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. These are the keys to writing effective objectives. 

  • Specific—make sure all necessary details are included. This is not the time for open-ended suggestions; you want to be very clear about who is doing what, and when and where they’re doing it. (In a perfect world, your objectives will also spell out why things are being done, because when it comes time for practical application, you’ll get more buy-in from your team if they understand how their tasks fit into the big picture.)
  • Measurable—when you’re laying out the steps for employees to take, ensure the task is quantifiable and that there’s a system in place to know if they got it done correctly. You don’t want to tell someone to make something “better” or “more;” you want to give them concrete tasks to accomplish with objectively calculable results.
  • Attainable—don’t set your sights so high that you set your employees up to fail. Stretch goals are fine, but there should be a reasonable expectation of successfully completing the task. No one benefits when targets are so aggressive they’re routinely missed. (This step may require additional independent analysis to determine what’s reasonably attainable–comparing past performance numbers, considering external factors that might impact achievement, etc.)
  • Relevant—make sure the objective supports the overall company goal you’re trying to achieve and is assigned to the appropriate personnel. If you assign a task to the wrong employee/department, they’re much less likely to succeed, so keep that in mind when making assignments and deciding what’s attainable. 
  • Time-bound—much as your tasks should be specific rather than vague, they also need to come with a deadline for completion, or you will never know if you’ve achieved it. Plus, we tend to prioritize the things that are made a priority. Without a deadline, tasks are likely to be put on the back burner repeatedly, and those well-thought-out objectives will never have a chance to help you reach your goals. 

Formalize your objectives as part of your business plan

No matter how well you lay out your objectives, they won’t do you much good if you don’t take them seriously, and the best way to do that is to make them a formal part of your most crucial business documents.

Your original business plan may have been used primarily to demonstrate the need for your business as you sought start-up capital and launched your company, but a business plan is a living document, and its usefulness continues well past the start-up phase of the organization. We also have templates for business plans that make the entire process move forward quickly and easily.

You should review and revise your plan at least once a year, and just as your start-up version explained how you intended to launch a business successfully, each subsequent plan should identify your current company goals and outline your plans to meet them.

In other words, a solid business plan should include well-defined objectives—specific tasks and milestones to help you succeed. 

For example, if one of your goals is “grow sales by 20% over the next five years," then your business plan should outline each objective you’ll work toward to get there, and the decisions you make throughout the year should lead to achieving this goal.

Solid objectives will help you understand that if an opportunity arises that doesn’t contribute directly to your goal, it may be wiser to pass up the opportunity rather than fail to meet the objectives that have been carefully curated to allow you to reach your overall targets. 

Examples of business objectives 

Now that we’ve talked about what goes into writing the objectives, let’s look at some hypothetical goals and some business objectives that might help support them so you can see how effective objectives are structured. 

GOAL: Reduce employee turnover

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Identify reasons employees quit. 

(You’ll notice this is too undefined to serve as a reliable roadmap, but can easily be made more useful with the SMART model.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

S: HR associates will personally request each resigning employee complete an exit interview when their badge and company property is collected. By logging into their online HR portal, each resigning employee will either complete the exit interview or indicate they do not wish to participate.

M: Automated weekly turnover reports will calculate the response rate compared to the number of resigning employees. These reports will be forwarded to HR analysts for compilation and study.

A: 100% of employees should submit some kind of response to the exit survey, as each employee will already be logged in to their HR portal to complete their resignation; there is a target of 85% interview completion.

R: Understanding why employees choose to leave is a crucial first step in reducing turnover, and HR is the logical department to administer exit interviews. (It would not be relevant to ask the IT staff to simply speculate on why employees leave or to administer the exit survey, for example.)

T: The first ninety days of data will be compiled and analyzed for trends and anomalies, and such analysis will be presented to the directors within three weeks of compilation.

(This is much more actionable in this form, giving organization members a well-defined map to follow toward the goal.)

Let’s look at another objective supporting the same goal.

GOAL: Reduce employee turnover

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Identify why new employees chose the company and long-term employees stay.

(No specific details to make this actionable, leaving employees to flounder on how to achieve the objective.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

Within 30 days (A, T), a task force consisting of one HR associate, two operations supervisors, one trainer, and one program analyst will create a survey designed to be given to representative samples of employees of varying tenure to gather information about their overall job satisfaction, why they originally chose to work for the company, and why they now remain. (S, R) The survey should contain no more than fifty questions and include questions on pay, benefits, and management interaction, along with any others the task force deems necessary. (S, M)

(Once you’re more comfortable with the SMART model, you’ll be able to identify the components without directly spelling them out, even if they’re not in the “right” order.) 

Let’s look at a couple of objectives supporting a different goal, and you’ll see that the process is precisely the same no matter what type of objective you’re drafting.

GOAL: Increase net profits by 15% this year

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Launch newly developed product to help increase sales

SMART OBJECTIVE

Launch newly developed product to help increase sales

R&D to complete final phase testing of newest widget no later than Q1. (R, T, S, A) Assuming at least 98% success in testing, (M, S)  the design will be forwarded to operations to ramp up production, with an anticipated launch date in early Q3. (T, A) 1000 units should be made available for inspection by June 1. (M, T, S, A) Following successful testing, the promotions department should make its final selection of advertising campaigns for both print and social media. (S, A, R) Online advanced teaser spots shall begin running by May 15, (T) with a minimum of 5K impressions per week and 1.5% click-through. (S, M)

(As mentioned earlier, most objectives will have several steps to complete, but each task element should fit within the SMART model.)

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Reduce payroll expenses by 10%

SMART OBJECTIVE 

Create a joint task force consisting of representatives from HR, Operations, and Payroll to conduct a feasibility study of an incentivized early retirement offer to employees currently retirement eligible and those within three years of eligibility. (S, A, R) The study will include the calculated costs of the buyout incentives vs. ongoing payroll costs, as well as cost estimations on the potential loss of productivity and expertise, and a determination of the minimum/maximum number of employees necessary to take advantage of the offer to create an overall reduction in costs. (S, M, R) The study's results shall be presented at the April Board of Directors meeting. (A, T)

And one final example, with a less precise goal, you can see it’s still possible (and necessary) to create effective SMART objectives.

GOAL: Explore whether sales can be increased by creating an online presence

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Become active on social media

(Clearly lacking the detailed direction needed to work effectively toward the goal.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

Begin social media integration by launching an Instagram account. (S) Identify one operations supervisor with a working knowledge of the platform to create and maintain the company account, with 7-10 hours per week allocated from their schedule for social media management. (S, A, R) Ensure the supervisor has access to any helpful tools for account management, such as this Instagram caption generator. After the account has been active for thirty days, the supervisor will provide the directors with monthly reports (beginning with month two) detailing engagement and conversion statistics. (T, S, M

As you can see from these simplistic examples, your objectives need to be fairly detailed.

Even the most straightforward goal will likely have several steps that must be taken to achieve success, and it’s important those steps are identified and planned for as much as possible, rather than simply stopping with a broad objective that won’t help you in the long run.

Of course, we can’t know the future, and sometimes things go wrong even with the best planning. If that happens, don’t be afraid to look at your objectives again, weigh them carefully against your overall company goals, and revise them to ensure you, your employees, and your organization is equipped to succeed. 

Recap

Sometimes, when we’re running a business, it’s tempting to skip over some of the planning parts and jump right into the doing. Not only do we feel like we’re accomplishing something that way, but it’s so often the fun part of the job, finally getting the journey underway. 

Compass lying on a map; caption reads plan for success

Image Source

But taking the time to plan and set tangible business objectives (and then memorialize them in your business plan) is an important part of any organization, so don’t shortchange yourself and your company by skimping on the planning.

Take the time to create thoughtful objectives using the SMART model to give your organization the best chance at success.

A detailed plan will help you figure out everything that needs to be done to reach your goals and help you and your team stay focused on the goals at hand, ensuring everyone is following the same map and moving toward the same destination.

And if you’re ever feeling a little lost in all the planning and goal setting, head over to Copy.ai, and we’ll help get you pointed in the right direction again!

Related content from our ongoing how to write series:

How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student
How to Write a Research Proposal
How to Write a White Paper
How to write a query letter

How To
14 min read

How To Write Business Objectives (And Why You Should)

Cheri Defonteny
October 31, 2022

We’ve all heard the old adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. That wisdom applies to many things in life but is especially true in business.

We intend to successfully keep the organization up and running, pay our employees a fair wage, and keep a roof over our heads. To do that, we need a plan, and the kind of plan we’re going to focus on creating today is the business objective. In this article, we’ll look at business objectives—what they are, why they’re important, and how to write them.

If you check with the trusty Merriam-Webster, you’ll see that a plan is “a method for achieving an end,” which means plans can’t exist in a vacuum. They can only help you reach a destination you already have in mind. The good news is that most companies are good at knowing where they want to go and establishing those goals. 

The next step is detailing how you will get to those goals, and that’s where business objectives come in. 

Outlining Business ObjectivesClipboard with a list to be filled in of key performance indicators

Image Source

What are business objectives?

Simply put, business objectives are an organization's actions to achieve its particular goals. 

But wait. How can objectives help achieve a goal? Aren’t they the same thing? 

Not quite.

Imagine you’re standing on a beach in the Pacific Ocean and you suddenly declare you intend to stand on a beach in every major ocean in the world this year. That’s a lofty goal, but simply saying it isn’t likely to make it happen. You’ll need some detailed planning to get it done, most likely starting with a lot of maps.

Likewise, you might know your company wants to double profits in the next five years, or become the number one widget producer in the country, but knowing you want to do it is a long way from knowing how to get it done.

Business objectives are a map to help you reach your goals. They help you lay out the detailed steps you’ll want to take along your path and keep you on course.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume company goals have already been established, though sometimes an organization may conduct massive planning sessions to establish all goals and objectives simultaneously. 

A business objective isn’t just another buzzword—formal objectives have a real purpose, and you need to know what they are and why they matter so your organization can make the most out of them. So let’s break them down a bit more thoroughly.

Business objectives:

  • Define what success looks like by identifying specific tasks necessary to achieve the overall goal, how a company plans to complete those tasks, and the desired timeline.
  • Determine what resources should be allocated to reach each goal and how outcomes will be measured. 
  • Clarify what each employee should be working toward every day so everyone is on the same page about their role in achieving company-wide objectives.
  • Enable companies to align their strategies with customers' needs by identifying growth opportunities. 
  • Help companies stay focused on their strategy by making sure all employees share a common understanding of where the company wants to go in the short term (one year), medium term (three years), and long term (five years).

As you can see, a lot is riding on getting this right. When you determine the objectives for your business, you're setting the course for all the goals you hope to accomplish.

These might include big goals like increasing profits or improving employee retention, or smaller items like creating a new training course or restructuring employee schedules. However, no matter what your goal is, your business objective should always be measurable, actionable, and realistic. 

How do you create and use business objectives?

The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Identify the overarching goal the objective will support.
  2. Outline the key tasks necessary to achieve the goal.
  3. Use the SMART format to create effective objectives.
  4. Include the finalized objectives in your official business plan.
  5. Work through each objective on your way to success.

Now let’s look at that process a bit more thoroughly.

Writing business objectives

The first and most important step in creating your objectives is to ensure you understand the overall company goal. If you’re in California trying to get from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, you probably don’t want a map that leads you to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Once your goal has been identified, then you can outline the key objectives to reach that goal.

Remember that you don’t want to get bogged down with an extremely long list of objectives. A handful should be more than enough for each goal—even fewer if it’s a smaller goal or if your organization is establishing objectives more frequently than annually. Remember that these are detailed plans you’re creating, so don’t expect a proper objective to be a simple task you complete in an afternoon.

But however many objectives you’re creating, you want them to be SMART. Let’s see how you get there.

Bullseye target with arrows pointing toward it labeled with SMART acronym. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

Image Source

What is a SMART objective?

SMART is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. These are the keys to writing effective objectives. 

  • Specific—make sure all necessary details are included. This is not the time for open-ended suggestions; you want to be very clear about who is doing what, and when and where they’re doing it. (In a perfect world, your objectives will also spell out why things are being done, because when it comes time for practical application, you’ll get more buy-in from your team if they understand how their tasks fit into the big picture.)
  • Measurable—when you’re laying out the steps for employees to take, ensure the task is quantifiable and that there’s a system in place to know if they got it done correctly. You don’t want to tell someone to make something “better” or “more;” you want to give them concrete tasks to accomplish with objectively calculable results.
  • Attainable—don’t set your sights so high that you set your employees up to fail. Stretch goals are fine, but there should be a reasonable expectation of successfully completing the task. No one benefits when targets are so aggressive they’re routinely missed. (This step may require additional independent analysis to determine what’s reasonably attainable–comparing past performance numbers, considering external factors that might impact achievement, etc.)
  • Relevant—make sure the objective supports the overall company goal you’re trying to achieve and is assigned to the appropriate personnel. If you assign a task to the wrong employee/department, they’re much less likely to succeed, so keep that in mind when making assignments and deciding what’s attainable. 
  • Time-bound—much as your tasks should be specific rather than vague, they also need to come with a deadline for completion, or you will never know if you’ve achieved it. Plus, we tend to prioritize the things that are made a priority. Without a deadline, tasks are likely to be put on the back burner repeatedly, and those well-thought-out objectives will never have a chance to help you reach your goals. 

Formalize your objectives as part of your business plan

No matter how well you lay out your objectives, they won’t do you much good if you don’t take them seriously, and the best way to do that is to make them a formal part of your most crucial business documents.

Your original business plan may have been used primarily to demonstrate the need for your business as you sought start-up capital and launched your company, but a business plan is a living document, and its usefulness continues well past the start-up phase of the organization. We also have templates for business plans that make the entire process move forward quickly and easily.

You should review and revise your plan at least once a year, and just as your start-up version explained how you intended to launch a business successfully, each subsequent plan should identify your current company goals and outline your plans to meet them.

In other words, a solid business plan should include well-defined objectives—specific tasks and milestones to help you succeed. 

For example, if one of your goals is “grow sales by 20% over the next five years," then your business plan should outline each objective you’ll work toward to get there, and the decisions you make throughout the year should lead to achieving this goal.

Solid objectives will help you understand that if an opportunity arises that doesn’t contribute directly to your goal, it may be wiser to pass up the opportunity rather than fail to meet the objectives that have been carefully curated to allow you to reach your overall targets. 

Examples of business objectives 

Now that we’ve talked about what goes into writing the objectives, let’s look at some hypothetical goals and some business objectives that might help support them so you can see how effective objectives are structured. 

GOAL: Reduce employee turnover

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Identify reasons employees quit. 

(You’ll notice this is too undefined to serve as a reliable roadmap, but can easily be made more useful with the SMART model.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

S: HR associates will personally request each resigning employee complete an exit interview when their badge and company property is collected. By logging into their online HR portal, each resigning employee will either complete the exit interview or indicate they do not wish to participate.

M: Automated weekly turnover reports will calculate the response rate compared to the number of resigning employees. These reports will be forwarded to HR analysts for compilation and study.

A: 100% of employees should submit some kind of response to the exit survey, as each employee will already be logged in to their HR portal to complete their resignation; there is a target of 85% interview completion.

R: Understanding why employees choose to leave is a crucial first step in reducing turnover, and HR is the logical department to administer exit interviews. (It would not be relevant to ask the IT staff to simply speculate on why employees leave or to administer the exit survey, for example.)

T: The first ninety days of data will be compiled and analyzed for trends and anomalies, and such analysis will be presented to the directors within three weeks of compilation.

(This is much more actionable in this form, giving organization members a well-defined map to follow toward the goal.)

Let’s look at another objective supporting the same goal.

GOAL: Reduce employee turnover

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Identify why new employees chose the company and long-term employees stay.

(No specific details to make this actionable, leaving employees to flounder on how to achieve the objective.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

Within 30 days (A, T), a task force consisting of one HR associate, two operations supervisors, one trainer, and one program analyst will create a survey designed to be given to representative samples of employees of varying tenure to gather information about their overall job satisfaction, why they originally chose to work for the company, and why they now remain. (S, R) The survey should contain no more than fifty questions and include questions on pay, benefits, and management interaction, along with any others the task force deems necessary. (S, M)

(Once you’re more comfortable with the SMART model, you’ll be able to identify the components without directly spelling them out, even if they’re not in the “right” order.) 

Let’s look at a couple of objectives supporting a different goal, and you’ll see that the process is precisely the same no matter what type of objective you’re drafting.

GOAL: Increase net profits by 15% this year

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Launch newly developed product to help increase sales

SMART OBJECTIVE

Launch newly developed product to help increase sales

R&D to complete final phase testing of newest widget no later than Q1. (R, T, S, A) Assuming at least 98% success in testing, (M, S)  the design will be forwarded to operations to ramp up production, with an anticipated launch date in early Q3. (T, A) 1000 units should be made available for inspection by June 1. (M, T, S, A) Following successful testing, the promotions department should make its final selection of advertising campaigns for both print and social media. (S, A, R) Online advanced teaser spots shall begin running by May 15, (T) with a minimum of 5K impressions per week and 1.5% click-through. (S, M)

(As mentioned earlier, most objectives will have several steps to complete, but each task element should fit within the SMART model.)

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Reduce payroll expenses by 10%

SMART OBJECTIVE 

Create a joint task force consisting of representatives from HR, Operations, and Payroll to conduct a feasibility study of an incentivized early retirement offer to employees currently retirement eligible and those within three years of eligibility. (S, A, R) The study will include the calculated costs of the buyout incentives vs. ongoing payroll costs, as well as cost estimations on the potential loss of productivity and expertise, and a determination of the minimum/maximum number of employees necessary to take advantage of the offer to create an overall reduction in costs. (S, M, R) The study's results shall be presented at the April Board of Directors meeting. (A, T)

And one final example, with a less precise goal, you can see it’s still possible (and necessary) to create effective SMART objectives.

GOAL: Explore whether sales can be increased by creating an online presence

BROAD OBJECTIVE

Become active on social media

(Clearly lacking the detailed direction needed to work effectively toward the goal.)

SMART OBJECTIVE

Begin social media integration by launching an Instagram account. (S) Identify one operations supervisor with a working knowledge of the platform to create and maintain the company account, with 7-10 hours per week allocated from their schedule for social media management. (S, A, R) Ensure the supervisor has access to any helpful tools for account management, such as this Instagram caption generator. After the account has been active for thirty days, the supervisor will provide the directors with monthly reports (beginning with month two) detailing engagement and conversion statistics. (T, S, M

As you can see from these simplistic examples, your objectives need to be fairly detailed.

Even the most straightforward goal will likely have several steps that must be taken to achieve success, and it’s important those steps are identified and planned for as much as possible, rather than simply stopping with a broad objective that won’t help you in the long run.

Of course, we can’t know the future, and sometimes things go wrong even with the best planning. If that happens, don’t be afraid to look at your objectives again, weigh them carefully against your overall company goals, and revise them to ensure you, your employees, and your organization is equipped to succeed. 

Recap

Sometimes, when we’re running a business, it’s tempting to skip over some of the planning parts and jump right into the doing. Not only do we feel like we’re accomplishing something that way, but it’s so often the fun part of the job, finally getting the journey underway. 

Compass lying on a map; caption reads plan for success

Image Source

But taking the time to plan and set tangible business objectives (and then memorialize them in your business plan) is an important part of any organization, so don’t shortchange yourself and your company by skimping on the planning.

Take the time to create thoughtful objectives using the SMART model to give your organization the best chance at success.

A detailed plan will help you figure out everything that needs to be done to reach your goals and help you and your team stay focused on the goals at hand, ensuring everyone is following the same map and moving toward the same destination.

And if you’re ever feeling a little lost in all the planning and goal setting, head over to Copy.ai, and we’ll help get you pointed in the right direction again!

Related content from our ongoing how to write series:

How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student
How to Write a Research Proposal
How to Write a White Paper
How to write a query letter

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