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Goals and objectives are often used interchangeably, but are they the same? No. Goals and objectives are similar, but they are two different things and you need to have both in order to maximize your potential at succeeding. You can think of them, along with strategies and tactics, much like a tree.
Think of an apple tree.
Goals are the trunk. They create a strong base for what you want to accomplish. Growing from the trunk are several thick branches that give the base balance as it grows taller. These are objectives. They help support the goals and make it easier to climb towards them.
Strategies are the still smaller branches that add fullness to the tree and help create more points for the sunlight and rain to help nourish growth.
Lastly, tactics are the leaves. The smaller portions absorb the sunlight and water.
Only with all four of these can the apple tree produce the delicious fruit that you yearn for. You can get a better idea of how these four intertwine here.
But first, let’s concentrate on goals and objectives.
What Are Goals?
Goals are broad statements that indicate an achievable outcome that you want to achieve. Most focus on an outcome that you want to achieve more than three years from now.
Goals focus on what you want the outcome to be, without actually detailing how you plan on getting there. When you think of goals, think of things like being an industry leader, winning a marathon, creating a cure for a disease, or owning a home.
Benefits of Goals:
What Are Objectives?
While goals show you where you want to go, objectives show you what actions you need to take to get there. The actions help everyone involved know what needs to be done and they allow you to measure your progress toward the main goal.
Take the example goal of winning a marathon. Objectives might include increasing your running speed by 3 MPH, increasing endurance by running daily, and entering and winning shorter races.
Benefits of Objectives:
How to Set Goals and Objectives
This is especially important for objectives. The objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Let's take a look at the seven major ways that goals and objectives differ, complete with examples.
How Do Goals and Objectives Differ?
Difference #1: Scope
Goals are general ideas of what you want to do. They can't always be measured along the way and only reaching them shows you made the necessary progress.
Objectives, however, are more focused. They are the steps necessary to reach the main goal and each one is measurable.
By having the smaller, measurable steps along the way, you can not only see yourself getting nearer your goal, but you gain encouragement to keep moving forward.
Difference #2: Purpose
The goal has the highest purpose and the objective is placed lower. However, without the objectives being met, it is impossible to reach the goal.
What makes the goal have higher purpose is that this is what you ultimately want to achieve.
Objectives can be altered over time if they appear not to meet their purpose of moving you toward the goal.
Difference #3: Specificity
The goal makes clear what you want. It tells the world what you see as the prize for all your work.
Objectives tell the world how you plan on reaching that goal. They are step-by-step plans on the route you plan on taking.
Think of it as the goal being your destination and the objective being the GPS that guides you. Objects are the rest stops you will make along the way to refuel.
Difference #4: Timeframe
Goals take a longer amount of time to achieve, often longer than three years and sometimes even ten or twenty.
Objectives, on the other hand, can be short-term…happening in less than a year, or even medium-term.
Difference #5: Tangibility
This can be one of the most confusing aspects. A goal is often less tangible than the objectives that go into achieving it.
For example, a goal can be as vague or simplistic as, “I want to become my best self.” What exactly does that mean? How is “best self” defined, and doesn't it differ from one person to the next?
On the other hand, the objective might sound something like, “I will learn ways to manage stress in the coming year.” Or, “I will lose 50 pounds in the next eighteen months by exercising three days a week.”
These last two statements indicate aspects of the ultimate goal, which is becoming better, and make it clear how you plan on reaching that goal.
Difference #6: Perspective
A goal can be rather generic, or at least without detail. Being the best, reaching the top, dominating the market, etc.… these are all big ideas.
Objectives require you to use more creative thinking when you compose them because you have to analyze what will go into making the goal occur, and then design a way to advance toward that goal.
Difference #7: Benefits
While goals and objectives work together, they don't exactly benefit each other. Objectives are beneficial in reaching a goal, but the goal itself does not have any benefit to the objective.
This is clearly a one-sided relationship.
Thinking about it from another perspective, the goal needs the objective in order to be realized… but the objective can stand alone and does not depend upon having a larger goal in mind.
Goals and Objectives Examples
With these seven examples, we are going to see how each of the differences plays out. Keep in mind as you look at these that each goal will really have more than the one objective that goes into making it happen.
Also, it may be necessary to break objectives down even further.
Goal: I want to rank as the top realtor in this area within three years.
Objective: Within two years, I will close the sale of 120 properties.
The term “top realtor” is very subjective, but the objective specifies an exact number of properties that need to be closed in order to be considered for the top position.
You need to achieve the property sales in order to even be considered for the top position yet meeting other criteria might be acceptable, so the goal ranks higher.
The objective is specific in how much has to be done within a certain period of time, but because the position is subjective, the goal is less so. The timeframe of the objective is shorter than that of the goal and selling properties is more measurable than being “the top”.
Finally, the objective supports reaching the goal.
Goal: I want to get my medical degree.
Objective: I need to graduate from college with a 3.8 GPA in order to get accepted at the medical school of my choice, which requires becoming adept at time management.
While getting a medical degree is a finite goal that can be reached, the goal doesn't say how you plan on getting there as the objective does. You have to reach the objective before you can achieve the goal.
Stating what you need to do and why is very specific, and the timeframe needed to get a 3.8 GPA and be admitted to medical school is much shorter than actually getting the medical degree.
Getting a 3.8 GPA, as stated by the objective, is necessary to meet the requirements needed to reach the goal.
Goal: I want to reach my ideal weight within three years.
Objective: I need to lose 35 pounds a year by exercising for an hour a day, three days a week.
“Ideal weight” is very subjective and changes for each person, but specifying how much weight is needed each year to reach the goal allows the objective to be narrow in scope and very specific.
The timeframe is also shorter on the objective and gives you check-in points to alter the method if necessary. Exercising a certain number of times a week also describes how you will meet the goal, which doesn't list any means for achievement.
Finally, you need exercise in order to lose weight, but exercising can be done without working toward the goal.
Goal: I want to save for a down payment on a home of my own in three years.
Objective: I must place $250 each month in a high-interest saving account for two years to reach $5000.
While the goal states why you want to save, it is general and doesn't mention an amount or how the saving will be carried out. This is done by the objective.
The goal gives purpose to the objective of saving and keeps you motivated, while the objective is very specific. You can't achieve the goal unless you succeed with the objective.
However, the objective stands alone. The results of the objective are easily measured, while the goal itself doesn't have a specific value and can't be measured until it is achieved.
The term “best self” is very generic and subject to interpretation. The objective, however, is a tangible action that can be measured and put into action.
It gives a direction toward meeting the ultimate goal. The objective can actually stand on its own without having to work toward the ultimate goal.
The goal, however, needs the objective in order to be realized. The goal is not measurable but the objective is, and the objective is also time-limited, where the goal is open-ended in a timeframe.
Goal: I want to complete the Boston Marathon five years from now.
Objective: I will improve my endurance by increasing my daily run by fifteen minutes a week over the next six months.
Both the goal and objective here are specific in intent, although the goal does not include how you plan on achieving it. The objective is easily measured and has built-in checkpoints to gauge your progress.
The objective is much shorter in duration than the goal and the goal can't be achieved without working on the objective. However, the objective is a stand-alone thing that does not need to be tied to the goal in order to be achieved.
Goal: I want to sail through the Bermuda Triangle on my 30th birthday.
Objective: I will create a vision board this week that includes all the information I can find to plan the perfect sailing adventure – including dates, transportation, and itinerary.
Both the goal and objective are time-bound, but the deadline for the objective is much sooner than the one for the goal. The goal does not indicate how the trip will take place, yet the objective gives a direction as to how to keep that information in one place and in mind at all times to provide inspiration.
In both these cases, the statements are tangible, but the objective requires more practical thinking in order to accomplish it. The goal can't be measured until it is accomplished but every new item added to the vision board mentioned in the objective is a visible step toward completion.
Final Thoughts on Goals and Objectives
With these goals and objectives examples, I’m sure you’ll agree that it is now easier to see how the two differ… yet work together. Both are needed in order to give you the greatest chance of realizing what you want to accomplish.
There are many paths that lead to a final destination.
By making sure your objectives are clearly in place, you will light the path that is most likely to get you to your goal. The objectives will help keep you focused on the grand prize and you will come out as a winner!
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.