Virtually every business function relies on goals and objectives to get things done.
But that won’t happen if the teams in these functions don’t align to your mission and how you’ll achieve it.
Fortunately, you can ensure they’re on the same page by helping them understand the meaning of the business goals and objectives.
Goal and objective are terms that are often used interchangeably. But, you’ll still get people saying different things when you ask them questions like “what is your goal?” or “how can we reach our objectives?”
In fact, even popular frameworks get the terms confused. Yet, goals and objectives are dissimilar.
The nuance between a goal and an objective is significant, even though it’s small. However, you need to understand how these terms work in tandem to keep your business on track.
In this guide, we’ll look at the definitions of goals and objectives, and outline the major differences along with examples of how to use them.
Goals and objectives are undoubtedly critical to the success of your business. They should align with your company’s vision and mission to guide your team’s actions and decisions.
A goal is a short statement that describes a broad and long-term achievable outcome. The statement focuses on an outcome within a period of about 3-5 years and focuses on the desired results without describing how to get there.
Some examples of goals can be growing revenues, creating a more inclusive workplace culture, creating a brand, becoming an industry leader, or providing excellent services.
You can use goals to inform your company’s annual strategies that each team will execute.
According to Dr. Edwin. Locke and Dr. Gary Latham’s goal-setting and task performance theory, goals can motivate our actions both consciously and subconsciously.
However, goals aren’t made equal – some motivate better than others.
Dr. Locke and Dr. Latham outline five core goal-setting principles, which include clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, and task complexity.
When you set business goals, they act as your compass to give direction and keep your team moving together toward success.
There are several different types of goals depending on who they’re created for, but here are the main ones:
- Time-based: used to set strategic direction and offer a high-level explanation for what individuals or teams should strive toward within a specific timeframe. For example: Increase revenue by 20 percent to qualify for the company of the year award in December.
- Outcome-oriented: these goals outline what you’re aiming to achieve sometime in the future. Its objectives offer more context as to when it will be completed and how to measure success.
- Process-oriented: doesn’t explain the outcome that the team should achieve but aims to set the direction for new processes and workflows. Its objectives offer tactical guidance for workers’ daily tasks.
- Company: this type of goal is high-level and longer-term. It gives direction for the whole team and is fundamental to the mission of the company. For example, Ford’s goal is to democratize the automobile so everything the team works towards achieving this goal.
- Team: team goals outline how your team purposes to work towards the company’s overall goals together. They’re more focused, have a shorter timeframe, and are less aspirational.
- Role-specific: the company and team goals guide the role-specific goals, which are important to the organization’s health. It gives a sense of ownership and belonging.
- Professional development: these are personal to individual staff members and are used to improve their professional skills.
Unlike a goal, which provides direction, an objective defines the specific actions that each member of your team must take to achieve the overall goal. Objectives are actions that measure how you should follow the direction provided by the goal.
To define and measure your objectives, you can use the SMART criteria, just as you would with goals. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
For instance, if one of your company goals is to create a more inclusive workplace culture, it’s not easy to measure inclusivity. However, your objectives can help your team understand what’s expected from them.
In this case, a good objective would be to have a 20 percent increase in women holding leadership roles. This objective helps employees create SMART actions to achieve that goal.
The employees can then use those objectives to measure whether or not they’re contributing to the larger goal of ensuring 20 percent of women in leadership positions.
Objectives are tailored to fit the needs of each business function while allowing for more autonomy. With clear and firm goals for your business, you can feel confident that your team is working in one direction even though they’re taking different steps to achieve it.
When your team is on the same page about where you want to go, they can stay focused, be accountable, and driven.
It’s easy to confuse an objective with a strategy, though. Both have measurable actions, but an objective remains the same while a strategy can change throughout the course of the business.
Plus, strategies define how your team will achieve the set objectives.
Objectives can be classified into strategic, tactical, operational, process, and behavioral each with its own work as follows:
- Strategic: these objectives are an offshoot of the main goal and describe where the company wants to be and the steps the team should take to get there.
- Tactical: these objectives outline the results that major teams – departments and divisions – in the company plan to achieve.
- Operational: these are specific results that individuals, work groups, and departments are expected to achieve.
- Process: these objectives offer the implementation or groundwork needed to achieve other objectives. For instance, the team may adopt a comprehensive plan to improve the environment around them.
- Behavioral: these objectives consider how to change the behaviors of people – what they do and say – and the results of that behavior. For instance, the security team may develop an objective to have an increased amount of end-to-end overhaul of the office security systems and fewer devices with compromised security patched or replaced.
- Community-level outcome: these objectives are created as a result of behavior change in the employees. They focus on changing at the staff level – not at the individual level. For instance, the security team may have an objective to reduce the number of staff with admin access roles as a way of tightening security in the company.
Objectives aren’t mutually exclusive, but most companies develop objectives based on the above categories.
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We’ve looked at the broader definitions of a goal and an objective. But what are the specific differences that set these terms apart?
The main differences between goals and objectives lie in seven key areas:
- Purpose and order
A goal is a broad intention that you can’t measure in a quantifiable unit while an objective is narrower and you can describe it in terms of specific, measurable tasks.
Here’s an example:
- Goal: To enhance staff expertise
- Objective: Schedule regular training and seminars by December 2021; have all employees certified by January 2022.
While a goal is set to achieve your or your company’s mission, an objective is set to achieve or accomplish the goal. In this way, a goal is higher in order than an objective.
An example of purpose and order:
- Goal: Increase profit margin
- Objective: Reduce operating costs by 10 percent in 18 months
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A goal is a general statement of what you want to achieve in your business, but it doesn’t specify the tasks you should do to achieve it. An objective is a specific, measurable action that happens within a set time period.
- Goal: Improve employee skills
- Objective: Conduct a training program in the next 12 months – form a special committee to select and hire a professional trainer to conduct the staff training workshops and seminars
You can’t define a goal in terms of tangible targets. That’s because a goal is non-measurable and intangible. On the other hand, objectives are tangible and help you accomplish your goal.
For example, if your goal is to create a more inclusive workplace culture, the objective would be to increase women’s leadership roles by 10 percent.
- Goal: To be a market leader
- Objective: To achieve a market share of 35 percent and annual profits of $4 million
A goal is broad and set to be accomplished over a longer timeframe than an objective that’s meant to be achieved within a shorter timeframe. You can split a goal into several different objectives and spread these objectives over different, shorter timeframes.
- Goal: Build a membership base
- Objective: Have a membership of 500 by December 1st, 2021. The membership committee will conduct 5 membership meetings at specified locations on the following dates in October and November 2021.
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When describing a goal, you focus more on conceptual thinking compared to an objective, which focuses on creative thinking.
- Goal: Identify and analyze market opportunities for possible business ventures
- Objective: Identify three possible market opportunities by October 20, 2021. Select and contract with an industry consultant to conduct an industry scan and identify market opportunities.
Goals and objectives work in tandem to help you achieve success. Without clear objectives, you run the risk of not accomplishing your goal, no matter how good it sounds.
- Goal: To generate leads
- Objective: To grow the number of leads generated per month from our website to 1000 per month because our marketing department finds that website leads convert to customers at three times the rate of leads from paid ads. I’ll reach 1000 website leads generated per month by 6 months from today.
However, goals and objectives offer different benefits as follows:
- Give direction to your efforts so you know what you’re moving toward
- Help you set priorities so you have a clear idea of what’s important and what’s less or not important.
- Gives the confidence and conviction that you can achieve the set goals because you know where you’re going and how long it will take to get there
- Eliminates the confusion around the direction you need to move toward and aids effective decision making
- Motivates you to persevere and act as you focus on your progress. You keep working despite the challenges and difficulties involved in getting to your destination
- Help you realize your full capabilities and potential. You believe in yourself more, which in turn makes it quicker and easier to reach your defined goal
Objectives, on the other hand, offer the following benefits:
- Help you measure the progress you make toward achieving your goals, otherwise, they may seem unsurmountable
- Create a sense of achievement and motivate you to work further toward reaching your goal
- Gives you an opportunity to confirm your confidence in the overall goal strategy and that you can achieve success
- Ensure you can make difficult decisions and that you’re moving in the right direction
- Help you set targets for your team and motivate them to work toward the goal
- Helps your team understand what’s required of you
Goals and objectives also differ based on how they’re measured. Measurement is key because you need to determine whether your actions are yielding the outcome you want.
Goal: To boost blog traffic
- Was there any increase in the blog traffic within the set period?
- How much (as a percentage) was the increment?
- What was done to increase the traffic?
- How much time was taken to achieve the increased blog traffic?
Objective: Increase publishing frequency to achieve 8 percent blog traffic by December 2021. from two times a week to seven times a week.
- How much traffic did we have before and what does it look like now?
- What was the percentage increase in blog traffic per day, week, month, quarter?
- How much time did it take to achieve the 8 percent blog traffic?
- Did we stay within the set timeframe? If not, how much more time is required?
There are three major ways to measure your goals:
- Ask close-ended questions to find out whether or not you met the goal. If you have clear goals, it should be simple, especially if it’s a no or yes answer. If you didn’t meet the goal, find out why, revisit it at your company’s next planning session, and see if you need to try again.
- Use a points system to measure multi-faceted goals. You can split the goal into two and then measure it by awarding points – one for the action and another for completing the action in good time. Make sure the points system is specific to your company and aligns with the larger system of measurement connected to performance or revenue.
- Follow a rubric system to measure qualitative and quantitative goals. A rubric system helps you evaluate the context around your goals and adjust how you measure them. A rubric helps you determine the expected outcome of the goal and document what happened so you can report the goal as successful or unsuccessful.
In the same way you measure your goals, you can measure your objectives too. The good thing is that objectives are more straightforward than goals in terms of measurement because they’re more specific. Here’s how measuring objectives differs from measuring goals.
- Measure the progress you’ve made towards attaining the goal. Objectives have quantitative data like numbers, units, and figures, so you can measure attainment. You can then determine what’s below average, average, or exceptional across teams or departments.
- Use behavior measurements to measure qualitative data. You can use surveys, focus groups, and other behavioral measures to measure your objectives, especially those that aim to change behavior.
- Compare past and present performance. For objectives that hold valuable insight, but are difficult to measure, you can compare the past performance versus your current performance. It may not be perfect, but you have fixed numbers to compare against. Once your stakeholders agree on the figures to use for comparison, it’s easier to measure these types of objectives.
Goals and objectives are some of the most challenging components of a business or organization’s plan.
They not only create a bridge between your company’s mission and what you need to do to achieve it, but they also establish boundaries for what your organization’s effort must focus on.
The differences we’ve outlined in this guide are some of the most effective frameworks that business professionals use today. Now that we’ve cleared the ambiguity around the terms, you should be able to make better short-term and long-term plans for your business.
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Scott L. Macarthur is a marketing consultant and an online author. He is mostly engaged in providing his expertise to startups and SMBs. He is also an author on TheNextWeb.