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.

(Side note: One of the best ways to get what you want from life is to create and set SMART goals. To get started, check out this post, which provides a step-step blueprint on setting SMART goals.)

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.

What is an Objective?

Objectives are the specific actions that you must take in order to achieve a goal. They are the concrete, short-term targets that 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.

Goals and Objectives in Business

An organization’s goals serve to fulfill its purpose, while the objectives that are subsequently laid out communicate more specific expectations to employees. For example, a company can determine their goal is to diversify their workforce. Some objectives to achieve this goal could be:

  • Advertise jobs internationally and obtain 15% of applications from outside of the U.S.
  • 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 their objectives to meet the company’s larger goal of diversifying their workforce. The recruitment team can make their objectives specific to hiring, human resources can focus on what trainings they offer employees that will align with the goal, and 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 objectives to make measurable steps toward their goals. Goals probably seem out of reach until they’re accompanied by smaller, more manageable objectives that give you a sense of direction and a place to start. As businesses meet their objectives, they’re able to feel a sense of accomplishment and measure their progress toward reaching their goal.

When considering your own career goals, you need to lay out specific objectives in order to make necessary progress. For example, if your ultimate goal is to open your own business, there are steps that you will have to take in order 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 business 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 in order 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.

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, as it isn’t something that will happen in a specified amount of time
  • A desired end result that 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
  • A 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 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.

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

This goal leaves a lot of room for interpretation, as it doesn’t specifically lay out the actions you need to take in order 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.

Final Thoughts on the Differences Between Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives both imply a target that your efforts are aiming to accomplish. However, your goals are the larger accomplishment that 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, then be sure to check out this post that provides a step-by-step blueprint for setting SMART goals for all seven areas of your life.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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