Number of Strategic Objectives: How Many is Too Many?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on April 11, 2023

Of all things about strategic planning, this one thing drives me absolutely crazy: when the plan has a number of strategic objectives.  And by “number,” I mean way too many strategic objectives.

So how many are too many strategic objectives?

I say three to five.  More than five, everything looks important and nothing gets done.

During a recent speech, I gave some stats about the probability of success – that I heard a long time ago, but can’t remember where.

Here’s what I said:

ONE Strategic Objective – while I can’t guarantee your success, you have a VERY HIGH probability of success as the company is focused on ONE big thing.  I’d give it at least 95% success provided the company focuses on that one thing.

TWO Strategic Objectives – the company can still focus and provide resources toward the objective.  I give it at least 90% probability of success.

THREE Strategic Objectives – It’s getting a bit busy here and with focus and attention, the organization has an 80% probability of success – with maybe one (or two) objectives with timelines that are pushed back a bit.

FOUR Strategic Objectives – If the organization truly focuses and leverages the two-fers and the three-fers (those action items that cut across the many strategic objectives), the probability of success drops to 70% as the day-to-day work still needs to be done while the organization strains to close the gaps between where they are and where they want to be.

FIVE Strategic Objectives – While I like four or fewer strategic objectives, it is possible to have five – but I usually find the fifth one is so important to the success of the organization, that even though it isn’t strategic, it needs the recognition that it is the booster rocket to success.

Honestly, you can have as many as you want.  You just may not be as successful as you would like.

Put another way, Chris MacChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, in their book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, say that you should apply “more energy against fewer goals because, when it comes to setting goals, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity.  If a team focuses on two or even three goals beyond the demands of the whirlwind [the day-to-day activities], they can often accomplish them.  However, if they set four to ten goals, our experience has been that they will achieve only one or two!”

Check out this graphic in the book – it explains all!

Bottom line:  Those who try to push too many strategic objectives at once usually wind up doing a mediocre job on all of them.  So limit the number of strategic initiatives to something manageable.  (I like the number three as we can remember three things easily).


Related Articles: 

4 Criteria for a Meaningful and Worthwhile Strategic Objective

How to Do Your Own Strategic Planning

Leaders: Do You Need Strategic Planning or Do You Have Clear Vision?

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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