Goals vs Objectives: How Are They Different?

There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission of anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Please do your own research before making any online purchase.

Whether you’ve been tasked with defining the annual goals for your department at work or you’re coming up with objectives to achieve a personal record, you’re familiar with the idea of aiming high and working hard.

The words “goal” and “objective” are often used interchangeably, and while the terms are related, they have some stark differences in meaning. Because these terms are typically found so close to each other in any instance involving a hope for the future, it’s important to be able to determine how they’re different.

This way, when you’re making plans–either in your personal or professional life–you can be sure to use the correct terminology and communicate with others effectively.

In this article, we will look at the definition of each of these terms and how they differ from one another. We will also look at some examples of goals and objectives and how you may use each in your personal life.

Let’s start by looking at the differences in the definitions between these two words.

What Is a Goal?  

Goals are broad, long-term results that you want to achieve. They’re the driving force behind your everyday efforts, and they make up your personal or professional purpose. Goals are backed by abstract ideas and don’t come with a clear path to success. Your goals add direction to your personal and professional vision and mission statements, which are even wider expressions of your values and aspirations.

To learn more about goals, here's a step-by-step process of creating effective daily goals that will move you toward success.

Types of Goals

Since there isn't going to be a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to goal setting and the term goal can be a broad statement, we thought we should go over some of the different goal types you may be faced with.

Time-Based

A time-based goal is one with a set strategic direction. It is what the team should strive for within a certain timeframe. A time-based goal can be considered short term or long term and is based on the needs of our business.

Outcome Oriented

An outcome-oriented goal doesn't necessarily have a specific timeframe, but it does outline what the company aims to achieve. It also describes how the business goal should be completed and how its progress is measured.

Process Oriented

A process-oriented goal sets the direction of new processes and workflows. It doesn’t explain what the desired outcome is and rather explains what the team is responsible for to achieve the outcome.

SMART Goals

And then you have SMART goals. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. When you can define these parameters as they relate to your goals, you can help ensure that your specific objectives and overall goal are attained within a certain timeframe.

What Is an Objective?

Objectives are the specific actions you must take to achieve a goal. They are the concrete, short-term targets you hit on your journey to accomplishing your ultimate purpose.

It can be said that without objectives, you cannot achieve your goals–and without goals, your objectives cannot get you where you want to be. Objectives are the single outcomes you achieve that keep you moving in the right direction toward your goal.

Measuring a Business Objective

A business objective is more specific than a business goal, so they can be easily measured in the following ways:

  • Measure Attainment: Most objectives have some kind of quantitative data like numbers and figures. So, you can use these numbers to measure your progress. This way, you can determine what is average, below average, and exceptional.
  • Surveys: Qualitative data can also be measured with surveys and focus groups. These will tell the full story of whether you are reaching your objective or not.
  • Past vs Current Performance: One of the more popular objectives is brand awareness. It is also one of the more difficult business objectives to measure. For this, you have to get creative. For example, compare your direct searches or brand search terms you have now to those in the past.

What Is the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

So, now that we have defined what goals and objectives are, let's quickly summarize the differences between the two. Goals are typically broad in nature, while objectives have a narrower scope.

Goals are valuable when you have a set direction or vision, while objections offer specific steps to get there. Goals can be difficult to measure, but objectives have a means to an end result, and their key results are easy to measure.

Business Goals and Objectives

An organization’s goals serve to fulfill its purpose, while the objectives subsequently laid out communicate more specific expectations to employees. For example, a company can determine its project goal is to diversify its workforce.

Some objectives to achieve this business goal could be:

  • Advertise jobs internationally and obtain 15% of applications outside the US
  • Provide diversity training to all employees by the end of the year
  • Create an environment of inclusion by supporting employees’ unique needs

In this example, each department can cater its objectives to meet the company’s larger business goal of diversifying its workforce. The recruitment team can make their business objective specific to hiring, while the human resource team can focus on what training they offer employees that will align with the goal.

Additionally, managers can create objectives such as being sensitive to various religious holidays and dietary restrictions, using the word “partner” instead of husband or wife, and establishing norms at meetings that encourage everyone to participate equally.

Businesses use measurable objectives to make steps toward their company goals. Goals probably seem out of reach until they’re accompanied by a smaller, more manageable business objective that gives you a sense of direction and a place to start. Measurable objectives are important because they are tangible and attainable.

As businesses meet their objectives, they can feel a sense of accomplishment and measure their progress toward reaching their goal and desired outcome.

When considering your own career goals, you need to lay out specific objectives to make the necessary progress. For example, if your ultimate goal is to open your own business, there are steps that you will have to take to achieve that goal. Some of your objectives could be:

  1. Obtain a business degree
  2. Secure financing and all applicable licenses
  3. Create a business plan

You need to complete those three objectives before reaching your goal of opening your own business, as they are a means to an end.

Due to the large-scale nature of this goal, the objectives may start out as your goals. Obtaining a business degree is certainly a valid goal before it turns into a necessary step of something bigger (opening a business).

goals vs objectives vs outcomes | goals and objectives examples | marketing goals vs objectives
Objectives are used by businesses to make measurable steps towards their goals.

So, backing up a bit, if your goal is to obtain your degree, your objectives could be:

  1. Research and apply to schools that offer business degree programs
  2. Obtain any financial assistance you will need to complete your degree
  3. Secure living arrangements if you have to relocate to attend school

Your objectives could vary from these, but this is an example of the necessary objectives to achieve a goal of obtaining a business degree.

This same principle holds true for your personal life. Let’s look at how your goals differ from your objectives in your everyday life.

Strategy vs Objective

Again, an objective is a measurable and is a specific action that can be taken to meet company goals. A strategy defines how a team will actually accomplish their objective. Strategies can change often while project objectives generally stay the same.

Goals and Objectives in Your Personal Life

With the recent arrival of the new year, you probably still have some personal goals on your mind. Setting personal goals isn’t the final step in making the improvements to your life that you want. Your goals also require a personal commitment and some action, especially spiritual goals.

With the proper objectives, your goals can have a huge impact on bettering your life, which is why having personal goals is an important part of living a happy and fulfilling life.

But to create your personal goals, you first must define the goals that you want to achieve and then plan accordingly by setting objectives that will help you make progress.

Let’s start with a common goal: Lose weight. This task is:

  • Long term goal, as it isn’t something that will happen in a specified amount of time
  • The desired end result  can only be acquired after specific efforts are made
  • Challenging in that it involves planning and effort
  • Abstract and generic, meaning it doesn’t have a firm beginning and end

So what are some objectives that would go along with this goal?

  1. Limit eating at restaurants to once per week
  2. Do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days per week
  3. Replace nightly ice cream with Greek yogurt
  4. Ensure half of every meal consists of fresh fruit and vegetables

These tasks are:

  • Concrete because you can easily tell if you have completed them or not
  • Short-term, meaning they can be started today
  • means to an end, meaning they’re required to reach your ultimate goal
  • Specific because they each have clear instructions
  • Supportive of your goal because each of these tasks will help you lose weight

Once you set your effective objectives, you will be on the right path toward meeting your goal. Having objectives will help you be intentional about reaching your goal because it will give you a plan.

Our personal goals are creating a vision with a ride range of objectives that are focused on individual and achievable outcomes. The objectives of these personal goals are concrete and can help measure your advancement to reaching your bigger end goal.

Let’s look at another common example of a personal goal: Saving money.

This goal leaves a lot of room for interpretation, as it doesn’t specifically lay out the actions you need to take to be successful, nor does it inform you of how you know when the goal has been achieved. Some objectives that you could set to support the achievement of this goal would include:

  1. Set up a 10% automatic deduction from every paycheck to go straight into a savings account.
  2. Make coffee at home five mornings per work week to replace buying coffee at the local shop.
  3. Make (and stick to) a budget every month.

These objectives will help you move toward reaching your personal goal of saving money.

How to Align Your Goals With Objectives

To align your goals with objectives and ensure that your goals are actually met, there needs to be a measurable objective and a clear goal. Break down each goal you have into measurable objectives to make things easier and much less overwhelming.

Keep your objectives specific by using the SMART goal method we described above. This works for both personal and professional goals.

Final Thoughts on the Differences Between Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives both imply a target that your efforts aim to accomplish. However, your goals are the larger accomplishment your efforts go toward, while your objectives are the smaller, more specific milestones that lead to the greater goal.

Hopefully, you’re clear on the difference between the terms, and you can apply them both to your personal and professional lives.

If you want to keep on top of your goals, here are 15 goal chart ideas and templates that can help you keep track of them.

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.

goals vs objectives | goals vs objectives in strategic planning | goals vs objectives in education
Goals vs Objectives: How Are They Different?