Objective vs. goal: what are the key differences?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 November 2022

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's important for any organisation's business plan to have clear goals and objectives to help their teams focus on a common desired outcome. Although the words objective and goal are commonly used interchangeably, there are some distinct differences that are essential to understand when creating your business strategy. Setting clearly defined goals and objectives can help with project planning and motivating your team to reach success. In this article, we explain what goals and objectives are, outline the difference between an objective vs. a goal and demonstrate how you can use them in your business planning.

What is a goal?

A goal is typically a wide, overarching ambition that either an individual or an organisation wishes to achieve. Goals provide a general idea of where you hope to be in the future and provide a long-term target for what you want to accomplish. When creating a business plan, it's important to set well-defined goals that indicate the desired outcome and the time frame in which you want to achieve it. The goals of a business have a direct impact on how it operates, including its marketing strategy, financial objectives, mission statement and even the corporation's culture.

Here are some examples of goals that businesses may set themselves:

  • 'Our goal is to become industry leaders in biotechnology by the end of 2022.'

  • 'We want to increase overall efficiency by this time next year.'

  • 'We aim to grow our international brand awareness over the course of 2021.'

You may also set personal goals. Some examples of individual goals are:

  • 'I want to become more confident and outgoing.'

  • 'My goal is to become known as an expert in marketing strategy.'

  • 'I aim to win the next Young Fiction Author Award in 2021.'

Related: How To Write an Action Plan To Help You Achieve Your Goals

What is an objective?

Once an individual or organisation has set a core goal, the next step is to set clear objectives that can help them attain what they want to achieve. Essentially, objectives are the specific actions you plan to take that can keep you moving towards your goal. They are short-term operations that have more immediate deadlines than goals do. Objectives can help you or your team to remain focused and have easily quantifiable and specifically outlined steps you can take within a certain time frame.

Completing objectives on the path to reaching a wider goal can provide motivation and encouragement that maintains the momentum of your overall mission. Here are some examples of measurable objectives:

  • 'I will meet with a public speaking coach twice a month for the next three months.'

  • 'We will increase revenue by 15% by the end of the next quarter by introducing new sales tactics.'

  • 'We will improve employee leadership skills by introducing training workshops by the end of the month.'

Related: What Is Strategic Management and Why Is It Important?

Objective vs. goal

While the definitions of goals and objectives are very similar, there are some distinct differences that are important to understand when creating your business plan. Here is an outline of objectives vs. goals:

  • Scope: Goals are much broader in scope than objectives. Rather than detailing specific, measurable actions, goals instead indicate the general intentions of an organisation.

  • Specificity: While goals provide a general idea of what the business hopes to accomplish, objectives set out the specific actions that you must take to accomplish an exact task.

  • Time frame: While both can have a certain time frame, goals are typically set out over a longer term than objectives. Objectives are usually short-term tasks that you can accomplish within a set goal.

  • Tangibility: Goals are not always tangible or easily measurable achievements, and, in some instances, a goal is a generic idea of what you wish to accomplish. Objectives provide precise, measurable targets that can help you achieve your goals.

How to use goals and objectives together

It's important that you use goals and objectives collaboratively. Setting a goal without outlining clear objectives to help you achieve it can lead to more challenging goals. Conversely, creating a list of objectives with no overarching goal can lack meaning and motivation stagnates. Creating a goal and breaking it down into small, measurable objectives can help you maintain focus and make larger goals more achievable. One technique to create a strategy for achieving your goals is the SMART method.

Here's how you can use the SMART method to set yourself clear objectives:

1. Be specific

Make sure that the goal you set is both clear and concise. When creating your goal, ensure that it specifically outlines exactly what you want to achieve. Goals can be quite broad statements, but the narrower you can make your goal, the easier it can be to identify the necessary steps to accomplish it.

2. Make it measurable

It's beneficial to be able to provide evidence that shows you're progressing towards your goal. For example, if your goal is to publish a novel, you may choose to measure progress by the number of pages you have written and had edited each day. By setting clear milestones, you can evaluate whether you're moving forward at a rate you're happy with, or you can reassess your strategy.

Related: How to create and utilise different types of SMART KPI

3. Make it achievable

Ensure that you can accomplish your goal within the timeframe that you have set out. Making achievable goals can maintain focus and motivation, making it more likely to achieve your overall goal. Using the above example, it's important to know the storyline for your novel, the estimated length and the deadline for when it is to be published before you begin work. By understanding whether this is something you can achieve easily or whether you need to make any preliminary steps, you can make sure you're well prepared.

4. Make it relevant

When you set your goals, it's important to make sure they're relevant. Ask yourself whether they align with your values and help you achieve your larger, long-term goals. In cases where the goal doesn't help you move forward towards your broader goals, you may need to re-evaluate it. Decide whether the goal is important to you and whether you want to work towards it now.

5. Make it time-based

Setting yourself a deadline for when you wish to accomplish your goal can provide a source of motivation. Having a timeframe in which you need to achieve your goal can also highlight potential tasks or aspects of your goal that you had not previously considered. This can help you assess how realistic your goal is and whether there are certain steps you need to take to make your goal more attainable. It's not uncommon for goals to run past their deadline. Use this as a learning opportunity to help you when setting goals in the future.

Related: How To Develop SMART Goals

Measuring your goals and objectives

It's important to measure the success of both your goals and objectives. Here are some techniques you can use to assess whether you have accomplished your goals and objectives:

Measuring goals

The following techniques can be used to measure how successful you have been at achieving your desired goals:

  • Use a points system. For example, you can assign points for completing tasks and for finishing them within a set deadline. When completing tasks, you can use these points to calculate how successful you've been.

  • Ask closed-ended questions: A simple way to measure your goals is to ask whether you met them, as a yes or no answer gives you a clear answer. For goals not met, note the reason why to prepare yourself for future goals.

Related: What KPI Stands for and How To Use It in Your Career

Measuring objectives

Objectives are made up of specific tasks that are often easier to measure than goals. Here are some techniques you can use to evaluate their success:

  • Compare past performance with current performance. Define how you're choosing to measure your company's performance, such as by the number of sales per month. Measure whether your number of sales are increasing and evaluate the reasons why or why not.

  • Use surveys. If your objective is to change a behaviour or is impacted by people somehow, using surveys or focus groups can be a great way to gather the information that can help you measure its success.

Related:

  • Balanced scorecard: definition, how to create and examples


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