What Is The Key Difference Between An Objective And A Goal?
Updated 3 August 2023
Setting goals and objectives can help your team stay focused and achieve the desired outcomes. Project managers and other team members often use these two terms interchangeably, though they have distinct differences and purposes. Knowing the critical differences between objectives and goals can help you understand how to incorporate them into your daily routine and accomplish project tasks. In this article, we discuss the crucial difference between an objective and a goal with a few examples and share how to measure the success of your team's goals and objectives.
What Is The Difference Between An Objective And A Goal?
Knowing the definitions of both these terms can help you better understand the critical difference between an objective and a goal. A goal is an achievable outcome, while an objective defines the measurable actions you take to achieve the overall goal. A goal is usually long-term, while an objective has a shorter timeframe. While these terms have different meanings and purposes, project managers often use them together as they are both essential for planning and executing a project. Both goals and objectives create measurable steps that help teams achieve the desired outcome.
The significant difference between a goal and an objective is that the goal focuses on the what, while an objective explains the how. Here are the other notable differences between these two terms:
Alignment and order: Goals are higher in priority than objectives. Goals aim to achieve the company's or team's overall mission, while objectives facilitate achieving these goals.
Scope: Goals are broad and depict overall intentions. Objectives are narrower and more focused and aligned to specific tasks.
Language: Teams describe goals in broad concepts. They often use more actionable language to define and discuss objectives.
Specificity: Goals give teams a general understanding of what to achieve. They do not list specific tasks or steps to achieve the results. Objectives provide a concrete list of actions or steps that helps teams achieve desired results within a particular timeframe.
Tangibility: Goals can be intangible, while objectives are always tangible. For example, an intangible goal can be to improve customer service, while the corresponding tangible objective is to reduce customer wait times to less than one minute within one month.
Timeframe: As mentioned above, goals have a longer timeframe, while teams set objectives for shorter periods. Usually, teams divide a goal into several objectives spread over a specific period.
Types Of Goals
There are three main types of goals, each focusing on different priorities, leading to different results. They are:
Time-bound goals: It has deadlines and target dates that help teams implement high-priority and time-sensitive actions. It provides team members with an overview of individual tasks and deadlines and is best suited for teams looking to achieve desired outcomes within a specific timeframe.
Outcome-oriented goals: Here, teams focus on accomplishing the action, irrespective of the time it takes to complete it. They are best suited for major business milestones and other high-level activities, where teams can adjust the deadlines as required.
Process-oriented goals: These goals focus on achieving specific internal processes. Instead of focusing on the outcome or deadline, teams prioritise tasks and the process to accomplish them.
Irrespective of the type of goal, setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) goals helps you create measurable and attainable results.
Related: SMART Goals: Definition And Examples
Types Of Objectives
The three major types of objectives include:
Strategic objectives: Purpose-driven, these objectives help teams align deliverables to larger business goals. They ensure that all team members have a clear project vision and work towards the project's overall purpose and timeline.
Tactical objectives: It helps teams focus on short-term tasks and long-term goals to make informed future decisions. It best suits teams working on complex projects with multiple short-term deliverables.
Operational objectives: These are short-term objectives that focus on achievable tasks like contributing to the daily, weekly or monthly team goals. It works best for large teams that work in short iterations and require detailed instructions.
Examples Of Goals And Objectives
Here are a few examples of goals and objectives that help you better understand how they are related but different:
Here is an example of team trying to achieve a specific milestone:
A company plans to launch a new product or service. The primary aim of this product is to connect with the local community and to establish the brand as a sustainable partner amongst the local community members. The goals and objectives for this scenario can be:
Goal: Launch a new sustainable product within the next six months.
Objective: Initiate local product research and market research using customer surveys to identify the primary sustainability issues impacting the local community.
Before launching a new product, teams undergo a lot of planning that helps them achieve the goal. Objectives can help the team stay on track so that every step of the process aligns with the overall goal. The goal and the objective in this example can follow SMART guidelines to achieve specific and measurable outcomes.
Here is an example of a team trying to achieve a target growth KPI:
A company desires to increase the popularity of its blog. The goal and objective of this scenario can be:
Goal: Increase blog engagement by 50% in the next three months.
Objective: Implement an email marketing campaign encouraging customers to subscribe to the weekly newsletter by offering a 10% discount for all new subscribers.
This goal and objective are easy for teams to understand as they include specific deliverables and quantifiable outcomes. It also aligns with the overall company goal of increasing blog traffic.
Here is an example showing a team trying to improve company efficiency:
A company aims to improve internal efficiency by streamlining existing processes. The goal and objective, in this case, might be:
Goal: Reduce manual onboarding errors by 100% in Q3.
Objective: Implement business process automation tools by the end of Q2 to reduce workflow errors in Q3.
Teams can plan and achieve the overall goals by including measurable objectives and defining the process.
This example shows a team that wants to achieve a specific target:
A cupcake company desires to reduce its operating costs. The goal and objective for this scenario might be:
Goal: Reduce the cost of each cupcake by 10% in the next three quarters.
Objective: Switch to a lower-cost sugar supplier in the next six months.
In this example, the goal is time and outcome-based, while the object is process-oriented. Though the goal and objective are interrelated, teams assess them differently to measure success.
How To Measure Goals?
Here are a few ways to determine if your actions achieved the desired outcomes of a goal:
1. Ask a close-ended question
The easiest way to measure if your team achieved the goal is by asking whether or not you met it. This method works best for clearly-defined process-oriented goals with yes or no answers. For example, if the goal was to open ten new branches by Q4, you can ask, 'Did we open ten new branches by the end of Q4'? The yes or no answer can help you determine if you have achieved the goal or not. For goals that the team did not complete, you can revisit them at the next team meeting to decide if it is worth trying them again.
2. Use a points-based system
You can measure multi-faceted goals by assigning points for each successful stage or phase completion. For example, if the team's goal was to launch a new website by Q3, you can split it into two measurable parts: the action and the deadline. If the team launches the site on time, you can award it two points, one for completing the activity and the other for finishing the project within the deadline. If the team launches the website but completes it only after the deadline, it receives only one point.
How To Measure Objectives?
Objectives are easier to measure than goals as they are more specific. Here are a few ways to measure the success of objectives:
1. Measure objective attainment
Generally, objectives have quantitative data that is easy to measure. You can compare the progress made to the expected outcome to measure objective attainment. For example, assume a team planned to generate 500 leads from a marketing campaign, but they managed to get only 400 leads at the end of the campaign.
Objective attainment = (400 / 500 x 100) = 80%
You can compare the objective attainment levels to determine whether it is above, below or average, depending on the success parameters for each team or department.
2. Compare current performance with past performance
You can use surveys, customer feedback forms or focus groups to measure qualitative data. You can review past performance to determine whether the current objective has helped to improve an existing process. For example, if the objective is to enhance customer satisfaction, you can compare current customer ratings with previous ratings to evaluate if the team has made progress in achieving this objective.
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