Set SMARTER strategic objectives: the framework for national associations and federations

Strategic objectives: they’re an unavoidable part of strategic planning for any national association or federation. Even if you don’t plan to review them officially until the end of the year, there’s never a bad time to evaluate your strategic objectives to make sure they’re fulfilling their ultimate purpose: to propel your sport towards success – whatever that looks like to you.


With that being said, setting strong strategic objectives can be challenging. There are multiple, complex factors to consider: realistic targets and deadlines, allocating limited resource, monitoring data and reporting on progress being just a few!


In this blog, we’ll break down objective-setting in strategic planning for national associations and federations and provide a framework to help guide you through this process. Plus, for those organisations that already have robust objectives in place, we’ll also discuss how these can be reviewed and adapted effectively in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Photo by Sport England


Strategic objectives: what are they and why are they important to your association?


Strategic objectives are the definitive, quantifiable targets that organise your broader goals into specific actions. While strategic goals bridge the gap between the bold, overarching vision and the core functional areas of your association, objectives take this one step further: they are explicit in what needs to be achieved, are driven by a deadline, and once completed will be replaced by another objective.


Strategic objectives are vital to monitoring performance and reporting on the progress of your strategy by providing a benchmark against which to measure success. However, among national associations and federations, they are often neglected in favour of broader open-ended goals, particularly in public-facing impact documents. While goals are an important component of strategic planning; helping to focus activity and allocate people and resources, progress against measurable objectives is what will ultimately tell you and your team if your strategy is fulfilling its purpose.


Every national association and federation knows that, while they are capable of realising incredible impact through their work, there is also a great deal that lies outside their control. Clubs, referees and coaches’ unions, corporate sponsors, media entities and political bodies are all examples of external organisations that, while not controlled by the national association, have a significant stake in the sport and its governance. For these organisations, presenting a set of clear, realistic, measurable objectives increases the likelihood of buy-in and engagement far more than vague promises.

Photo by Sport England


The SMARTER Framework for National Associations and Federations


The SMART framework is an established method for setting strong objectives and is a helpful starting point for any organisation looking to get their strategy on track.

There have been several adaptions to the framework over the years, including the SMARTER method, which has a variety of iterations aimed towards businesses and other organised groups. However, we believe it can be adapted to better account for the specific challenges faced by national associations and federations, so we set out to develop a version that does.


Introducing: Oaks’ SMARTER framework for national associations and federations! The philosophy behind this method is that, while every organisation must balance ambition with achievability in order to realise their potential, national associations and federations face several unique challenges. The range and number of stakeholders, partners, beneficiaries and services demand complex (and often conflicting!) commitments, which can confuse your strategic direction. Establishing SMARTER objectives will help you to understand exactly what needs to be delivered and when, ensuring that your broader strategy and goals remain on track.


To help you visualise how each criterion would translate into a strategic plan, we’ve provided a working example and highlighted the relevant section in green.


S: Specific


The first criterion of a SMARTER strategic objective is specific. Your objective should be meaningful to your association and outline clearly and concisely what is required – keeping you mission-focused and providing clarity for internal staff and external stakeholders.


· What exactly do we wish to accomplish?

· What will achieving this look like?

· Who does it involve?

· What resources will we need?


Example


To increase the number of registered youth women’s basketball players from 13,000 to 17,000 by 2025.


M: Measurable


Arguably the most important characteristic of a good strategic objective is its ability to be measured. Your objective must be quantifiable to accurately monitor progress and determine success.


· How much/how many?

· How can this be quantified (which metrics will we track)?

· How frequently will we review and report on progress?


To increase the number of registered youth women’s basketball players from 13,000 to 17,000 by 2025.


A: Achievable


A strong strategic objective should be challenging enough to expand the comfort zone of your association and its members, while being attainable within the bounds of your resources, capabilities, and budget.


· How can we accomplish this?

· Is this target reasonably attainable within our current capabilities?

· Are there any significant barriers (budget, resources, skills, time, political influence etc.) that might preclude this objective from being achieved?

· Can these barriers be removed in sufficient time to deliver the outcome you have in mind?


If your objective to increase the number of registered youth women’s basketball players from 13,000 to 17,000 by 2025 is set in 2022, but historical data suggests that women’s youth registration increases by an average of 200 per year, it is unlikely that you will make a gain of 4,000 in 2 years. Unrealistic expectations can affect team morale and lead to difficult questions from stakeholders, so it’s worth ensuring your objectives take account of past performance.


R: Relevant


Your strategic objectives should be relevant: they should align with other objectives, focus areas and the budget, and directly contribute towards your association’s overarching vision.


· Will this objective help to achieve the vision of our association?

· Does it complement our other objectives and focus areas?

· Why is this objective important at this time?


Strategic focus area: Increase women’s participation in basketball


Relevant objective: To increase the number of registered youth women’s basketball players from 13,000 to 17,000 by 2025.


T: Time-bound


To keep your strategy on track, it is vital that your strategic objectives have deadlines. This will help to break down broader goals into manageable actions and focus the efforts of your team. It also makes it easier to prioritise tasks and track progress.


· When do we want to have achieved this?

· When will we start?

· What do we want to have achieved by X weeks/months to ensure we are on track?


To increase the number of registered youth women’s basketball players from 13,000 to 17,000 by 2025.


E: Engaging


It is important that your strategic objectives are interesting and align with your association’s guiding values and purpose. Good strategic objectives should inspire your team and engage your stakeholders; without them, strategy becomes nothing more than words on a page.


· Will achieving this objective further our purpose?

· Is it motivating?

· Does it reflect our values and the interests of those responsible for delivery?


Engaging objectives are entirely dependent on your association’s vision, purpose and values, so our advice would be to ensure these are front-of-mind when going through the SMARTER checklist. The above example of an objective may not seem engaging in isolation, but when presented as part of a holistic strategy designed to achieve some exciting goals, it will provide your staff and stakeholders with a blueprint for how to get there.


R: Regularly Reviewed


Your association should aim to fulfil its strategic objectives in the short-to-medium-term and review them regularly. Strategic plans tend to be medium-term in nature (typically 4-5-years), which means context is likely to change between starting the strategy and its end point. Where objectives have been achieved, or no longer serve your association’s wider strategic purpose, you then have a chance to adapt or replace them. This will help to keep your team energised and your strategy dynamic.


· When will we aim to replace this objective?

· Once we have achieved this, what is the next step to achieving our vision?


If you do achieve the above example by 2025, but your strategy isn’t due to be completed until 2027, at what point do you review and adapt this now-obsolete objective? Building regular review dates (e.g., at 6-month intervals) into your strategic plan will ensure that your objectives remain relevant, and your sport continues to progress.


Like any framework, SMARTER is just a guideline, and the objective-setting process will look different to every organisation. However, we hope that this will provide a good foundation for national associations and federations looking to set objectives that will meet their needs and the demands of their stakeholders.

Photo by Sport England


If you’d like to have a conversation about your association or federation’s strategic plan, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing phil@oaksconsultancy.co.uk – we’d love to hear from you.


For all media enquiries contact tilly@oaksconsultancy.co.uk