What Is the Difference Between Goals and Objectives: Examples of an Actionable Business Planning Process
Do you know the difference between goals and objectives and how are they related?
August 29, 2018

Setting goals is critical for every organisation because goals determine the broad vision and direction for any business plan. The best goals will align with the company mission, vision and culture and describe the business' longer term aspirations before laying out specific actions.

Do you know the difference between goals and objectives and how they are related? Without objectives, company goals have little support and can be difficult to reach. While the terms 'goals' and 'objectives' are often used interchangeably, they have major differences and important implications for organisations.

What Are Goals?

Goals can be somewhat abstract and big picture, but they set a wide, overarching target for the company to set their eyes on as a whole. Goals define the general intentions and ambitions of the business but can be difficult to measure. Setting goals is an important step of business planning, as a well-defined broad primary outcome will have an impact on areas including your mission statement, financial objectives, corporate culture and marketing strategy.

For example, a person could have a goal to become a successful published author. While this is a good goal, there are no specific actions or time frames associated with general goals like this. What defines a 'successful author’? How would they know when they've reached their goal? A generic action or project goal is motivating, but adding in precise targets or objectives will help the would-be author to reach their goal effectively.

Goal setting helps individuals and organisations motivate themselves towards a destination or achievement. In a positive work environment, developing lofty goals can boost employee engagement and create excitement that spurs action. Keep reading to learn how goals and objectives work together and how you can generate business results with goal-tracking tools.

What Are Objectives and How Are They Different?

man studies the difference between goals and objectives

Once a core goal is set, setting business objectives is the next step towards fostering a clear understanding of how to reach the desired outcome. The main difference between objectives and goals is that objectives are precise actions or measurable steps individuals and groups take to move closer to the goal. They are specific targets that typically have a time-bound schedule or timeline for completion.

For example, a company may have a goal of becoming the most profitable advertising agency in the country. Objectives related to this goal might include increasing their new business sales by five percent each quarter, growing their market share by a set time frame, improving client retention rates by 10 percent each month or adding two new products to their product line by the end of the fiscal year.

Examples of Business Goals vs. Objectives  

While goals and objectives work in harmony to maximise your business strategy and produce results, they have clear differences that must be recognised to use them effectively.

Goals are:

  • Broad in nature
  • Valuable for setting a general direction or vision
  • Difficult to measure
  • Abstract ideas
  • Longer term
  • The end result

Examples of goals include:

  • I want to become known as an expert in business strategy
  • I will commit to my career development and learn how to increase sales
  • I want to be more confident

Objectives are:

  • Narrow in scope
  • Specific steps
  • Associated with a schedule and time frame
  • The means to the end result
  • Easy to measure
  • Short term or medium term

Examples of objectives include:

  • I will speak at five conferences in the next year
  • I will read one book about sales strategy every month
  • I will work with a coach to practise my networking skills by the end of this month

While goals create a vision with a wide range, objectives focus on the individual, achievable outcomes. Objectives are the concrete deliverables that make the goal come to life. Progress towards them helps measure advancement to reaching the larger end goal.

How Goals and Objectives Work Together

difference between goals and objective: woman develops goals at computer

Setting goals without assigning measurable objectives will likely lead to goals that never get accomplished. Creating objectives without a broad goal or target lacks meaning. Goals can seem impossible or overwhelming without breaking them down into measurable tasks with objectives.

Many companies use the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method to lay out specific objectives towards reaching each goal. Whether you are self-employed, have a small business or are part of a large organisation, your goals need to be supported with precise objectives.

Anytime an individual or employee undertakes a long-term goal, it can feel intimidating to put a plan together to make it happen. The S.M.A.R.T method helps make goals achievable by breaking the goal down and assigning responsibility to team members — they describe who will do what, by when.

S.M.A.R.T goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. For example, the same scenario of the person with a goal of becoming a successful published author could use S.M.A.R.T. goal planning to outline key objectives towards the goal like this:

Specific: I will create and brand a nonfiction book series about healthy diets and publish at least one book per year.

Measurable: I will write 10–15 pages of copy per day and will work with my publishing agent five hours per week.

Attainable: I will hire an editor to review my writing before it is published.

Relevant: Publishing a book series will help establish me as an influencer in my industry and create awareness around nutrition and wellness.

Timely: I will publish one book per year for five years by having each draft ready in nine months.

Tracking Progress Towards Goals

Once you've established your business goals and mapped out specific objectives, you have to measure your progress towards them to stay on track towards your targets. Teams often use a variety of goal-tracking methods, tools and software to help measure progress towards specific outcomes and increase accountability of tasks.

Goal setting is only meaningful when you have a system in place to hold yourself and employees accountable for fulfilling objectives. When people make commitments to complete tasks in a transparent work environment, they experience the effect of social discipline and feel obligated to follow through to protect their integrity. No one wants to be the person that lets the team down or misses an important deadline!

Many organisations use performance management programs or teamwork software to make creating and measuring goal advancement easier. Software can help to foster accountability and responsibility towards goals within teams. Everyone can view progress towards one another's goals and targets, so there's no question about who is responsible for completing certain tasks within specific time frames.

Other benefits of using teamwork software include the ability to help teams communicate more effectively, provide greater visibility into performance and productivity issues, and have tools to reward employees or teams who are high achievers.

With these tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to track your progress against your objectives, stay motivated and demonstrate your ability to work towards a goal. A visual reminder that you’ve completed an objective can be a powerful way to help you reach your end goal faster. To help you stay focused on your goals, try these tips to improve your work performance and productivity.

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