Conflicting objectives?

Like many people, I’ve been following the story over the last few days of the CQC alleged cover up. My memory could be playing tricks on me, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the first time I have heard a story about an organisation appointed to assess performance not doing the job we expected of them.
And this made me think – what exactly did we expect? I’m trying to avoid the political arguments, but it seems to me that recent governments have often asked commercial organisations to quote (competitively) for this kind of work and I fear that creates conflicting objectives. Do we want them to be efficient (keep costs down) or be a fearless guardian of quality, probing remorselessly for weaknesses? Or, to put it a different way, do we really want someone to check and report their findings, or do we just want a piece of paper that tells us everything is OK at the lowest possible cost?
Then I looked in the mirror and asked myself if I have something similar going on in my business or our clients? Creating objectives is a critical activity, whether you practice the SMART (Specific, measurable …) approach or BHAG (Big, hairy audacious goals). However, a good additional check step is to look for conflicts between the objectives. Sometimes this becomes most obvious when developing objectives and plans to deliver the objectives.
Occassionally the conflict comes right from the positioning of the business. Do we want to compete on price, quality or speed – there are almost always trade-offs to be made between these dimensions.
In all these examples, and I’m sure there are more, the key may well be in setting the overall ‘vision’ for the subject in question (the business, a department or a single project) and securing the buy-in of all stakeholders to it. A single, coherent and compelling vision is likely to reduce or even eliminate conflicting objectives by submitting each objective to the test “does hitting this objective move us closer to our vision?”
And finally if there are still some conflicting objectives left, the only option is to choose – pick the most important one and drop (or postpone) the others.