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What Is a Strategic Imperative?

By Terry Masters
Updated May 16, 2024
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A strategic imperative is a business goal, objective or target that has the highest priority. Businesses often engage in strategic planning that evaluates the entire business and sets out a plan of action. This type of planning helps businesses better manage current and future operations. Part of this process is identifying goals, objectives and targets for the company as a whole, and often for individual departments and job positions. Out of all of the things a business might want to accomplish, a strategic imperative is the one thing that must be accomplished ahead of all other things.

In many situations where people or organizations are trying to move projects forward, the mindset is to do something on the project every day, even if the task is small or inconsequential. This mindset is based on the philosophy that slow and steady progress will eventually result in completed projects. Not all goals and objectives are equally important, so this type of mentality can negatively impact the progress of businesses towards strategic goals. Often, time is an important factor, and certain things must be completed by a specific date, while other things can be put off if needed.

From a strategic perspective, a business identifies those goals, objectives or targets that are critical to its operations or to obtaining its most important results. The strategic imperative designation moves a target, goal or objective to the top of the staff's to-do list. It is the way a business tells its employees to do first things first. Without this process of prioritizing, employees may impose their own paradigm on the task list, sometimes resulting in trivial or inconsequential tasks being prioritized over tasks that will affect the bottom line.

Businesses can have a single strategic imperative or multiple imperatives that relate to different departments. For example, the company as a whole can have one strategic imperative, while the marketing department operates under its own imperative that supports the company-wide imperative. Functionally, every employee should be able to identify the company's strategic imperative for the designation to work as a mandate.

Management consultants can help businesses identify and refine a strategic imperative. One of the most problematic management issues for businesses is operating without a clear focus and with everyone working under the same list of priorities. Consultants can walk executives through a series of exercises to map out core operations and match them to critical current and potential sources of income. They can also help staff stay on track once imperatives have been identified.

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Discussion Comments

By healthy4life — On Sep 29, 2012

I think that each individual worker at a company can have his own version of a strategic imperative. While it has to play into the grand scheme of things, it can be his own personal way of going about the task.

With me, it was always putting certain things first, no matter how much else I had to do. I made myself cling to this method, and I was much more productive because of this.

By StarJo — On Sep 28, 2012

I worked in advertising, and our department had a strategic imperative that was related to the goal of the whole company. However, we had our own specific ways of going about achieving our goal.

The managers from each department met to discuss the strategic imperative of the company, and then each manager was given control over determining a subset of that imperative and how to go about it. So, though our methods differed, the goal was the same.

Working together yet separately, we achieved our goal in just one month. I think that is something to be proud of, and it shows how well setting strategic imperatives works.

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