Think of Objectives Like Flight Plans



“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desire results? The answer to this you can call strategy.” — By William E Rothschild

How do you create effective objectives?

Effective objectives are not straightjackets.  Instead, effective objectives are more like flight plans.

They set directions and guide the resources and energies.

In The Essential Drucker, Peter Drucker writes about creating and setting effective objectives.

Objectives Must Be Transformed into Work

Objectives don’t help unless are actionable.  You have to bake objectives into the work you do.  You can do this by creating tests for success and clear measures of results.
Via The Essential Drucker:

“If objectives are only good intentions, they are worthless.  They must be transformed into work. 

And work is always specific, always has – or should have – clear, unambiguous, measurable results, a deadline, and a specific assignment of accountability.”

Don’t Treat Objectives Like Straightjackets

The objectives should not limit you.  They should guide you.  Objectives must be flexible so that as you learn things you can respond.
Via The Essential Drucker:

“But objectives that become a straightjacket do harm.  Objectives are always based on expectations. 

And expectations are, at best, informed guesses. 

Objectives express an appraisal of factors that are largely outside of the business and not under its control.  The world does not stand still.”

Objectives are Like Flight Plans

A good metaphor for objectives is that they are like flight plans.
Via The Essential Drucker:

“The proper way to use objectives is the way an airline uses schedules and flight plans.  The schedule provides for the 9:00 A.M. flight from Los Angeles to get to Boston by 5:00 P.M.  But if there is a blizzard in Boston that day, the plane will land in Pittsburgh instead and wait out the storm. 

The flight plan provides for flying at thirty thousand feet and for flying over Denver and Chicago.  But if the pilot encounters turbulence or strong headwinds, he will ask flight control for permission to go up another five thousand feet and to produce a new schedule and flight plan. 

Unless 97 percent or so of its flights proceed on the original schedule and flight plan – or within a very limited range of deviation from either – a well-run airline gets another operations manager who knows his job.”

Objectives are Directions Not Fate

Objectives don’t determine the future.  They simply help guide direction.
Via The Essential Drucker:

“Objectives are not fate; they are directions.  They are not commands; they are commitments. 

They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Turn objectives into specific work.   Break what you want to accomplish down into steps you can act on.
  • Effective objectives are like flight plans.   Keep your objectives flexible and refine them as you learn more.
  • Don’t treat objectives like straightjackets.   Don’t let objectives limit you.  They should support you and help you reach your goals.

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Photo by Matt Boman.


  1. I completely agree that we need to be flexible and always remember that it’s OK to change our objectives and let go of old objectives that don’t work for us anymore.

  2. I agree with Vered. Objectives have to be flexible so that they can be changed based on the outcome v/s expected result. I agree with Mr. Ducker that objective has to be 1) specific 2) measurable and 3)monitored.


  3. @Vered – I’m a fan of course correcting too, whether that means dropping, changing or refining them. I think the key to correcting course is continuously asking — “what do you want to accomplish?”

    @Shilpan – I’ll add that developing sensory acuity is helpful for knowing whether you’re moving towards or away from your objectives, when quantitative measurement is lacking or difficult.

  4. Enjoyed the post, J.D. And as I’m on my way out of the country for a week, the flight plan metaphor is VERY current in my experience. On the first leg of the flight, we routed around a chain of thunderstorms and rough air. There was never any doubt as to our objective (getting to the specific airport) but the pilot made the decisions necessary to get us there safest under the circumstances (applying his criteria for meeting the objective)

    be well

  5. Hey Rick – your example reminded me of another aspect I like. The plane stays in motion but finds another path to the destination. Where I see some people get stuck is they had a single path in mind and when they get blocked, they get stuck. Taking action forces you to explore more options to find a way forward.

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