The Difference Between Goals and Objectives (+Examples) ‍

The terms “goals” and “objectives” are most often used when outlining a company's quarterly and annual strategy. The problem is that they often use them interchangeably. This blog post will unpack the difference between goals and objectives.

The Meetingnotes Team
February 13, 2023

“Goals” and “objectives” are the two terms that organizations use most often when outlining their quarterly and annual strategy. The problem is that they often use them interchangeably.

While goals and objectives are somewhat similar, they are not the same. They differ when it comes to the specific tasks teams have to complete to achieve them. 

In this article, you'll learn what goals are, what objectives are, and the difference between objectives and goals. 

What is a goal vs. objective? 

To lead your employees effectively, you need to set goals and objectives to guide and inform the tasks they work on every day. Without these two elements, your team would have no direction or purpose to deliver the best work possible.

Let’s walk through some definitions, as well as goals and objectives examples.

What is a goal?

A goal is a broad and long-term outcome that you want to achieve. In business, goals define what you want to achieve and inform the strategies that departments execute each year. You can use goals in many parts of your business: your marketing strategy, business positioning, mission and vision statements, financial projections, and other important business initiatives. 

By design, goals are broad statements that are hard to measure. For example, your goals as a business could be to: 

  • Increase brand awareness 
  • Improve communication amongst teams 
  • Allocate business resources to all departments 
  • Foster a healthy and inclusive work culture 

These are great goals to have, but notice how they don’t include any specific action or deadline that helps you achieve them. It’s great that you want to build brand awareness, but how are you going to do that, exactly? What specific tasks do you need to undertake? And how will you know you’ve achieved that goal?

That’s where objectives come in.

What is an objective? 

An objective is a specific and measurable step you need to take to achieve your goal. Objectives give you a clear understanding of what you—and your teams—need to do to get your organization to where you want it to be. For example, to achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness, a business can have an objective like, “Run Facebook and search ads throughout the first quarter of the year.”  

Some other examples of objectives include: 

  • Increase website traffic by 25% this quarter 
  • Close 6 more deals by end of year to reach $20K monthly recurring revenue
  • Reduce operating costs by 15% in 1½ years 

Note: Some businesses set and measure objectives through frameworks like Objectives and Key Results (OKR) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). See how to effectively set OKRs.

What is the difference between a goal and an objective?

The main difference between goals and objectives is that goals provide direction, while objectives specify (and measure) how you follow that direction. Here are some other differences between goals and objectives: 

  • Hierarchy: Goals take precedence over objectives. Goals aim to achieve a company’s mission, while objectives are only valuable when they help a business achieve its goals. 
  • Timeframe: Goals can take a long time to achieve, but objectives usually take a smaller time frame—a year or less—to achieve. For instance, it’s almost impossible for everyone in the world to know about your brand, so increasing brand awareness will likely be your goal for a few years, if not decades. But the objective to run Facebook and search ads to facilitate this goal will only take a couple of months.
  • Tangibility: Goals are usually vague and intangible. They encompass what you want to achieve, but they don’t specify how exactly you’d achieve it. Objectives, on the other hand, are tangible and measurable. They depict specific actions you can take to get closer to your goals.

How goals and objectives work together 

While goals and objectives are two different concepts, they work together to help you maximize your team’s productivity and achieve excellent results. This is because both work in tandem to ensure successful planning and execution of a project. Without objectives, your teams won't be able to communicate effectively to achieve your goals. And without goals, there'll be no direction for your objectives.

Different types of goals

There’s no one-size-fits-all procedure to setting goals. Companies have several metrics to measure—especially in marketing—so they should have different kinds of goals to choose from.  Goals are communicated to the team during a goal setting meeting, and a generally tracked in a goal setting software. There are three major types of goals: time-based, outcome-oriented, and process-oriented goals. 

Each of them is set up differently and leads to a different kind of end result. Here’s what each of them entails:

  1. Time-based goals 

Time-based goals are driven by target dates (or deadlines). These goals specify what your team or employees should accomplish within a certain timeframe. Time-based goals are great for helping both teams and individuals plan and execute pressing tasks. However, these goals could be short-term or long-term, depending on the needs of your business. You can track these goals with note-taking software or spreadsheets.

  1. Outcome-oriented goals 

Instead of focusing on deadlines, outcome-oriented goals are focused on end results. They're all about accomplishing the required tasks well, no matter how long it takes. The objectives of outcome-oriented goals provide more information on when the goal should be accomplished, but deadlines can be pushed back if necessary so that the business can achieve the desired income. 

Outcome-oriented goals are mainly used for big picture changes and business milestones like hiring or resource allocation.

  1. Process-oriented goals

If your business is looking to set up new internal systems and workflows, use process-oriented goals. Instead of focusing on outcomes, process-oriented goals focus on the work itself and how teams accomplish different tasks. These goals and objectives aim to improve team efficiency by implementing the most effective processes and workflows possible. Accompanying these goals are process-oriented objectives that guide employees in the day-to-day activities. 

Pro tip: No matter the type of goal you set, make sure it's SMART. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. It's easier to work towards and achieve goals that meet these criteria.

Different types of objectives

There are three major types of objectives: strategic, tactical, and operational objectives. They are all different but each of them plays a pivotal role in achieving larger goals. Objective tracking is generally done through a project management tool. Let's see how each type fits into a business setting.

  1. Strategic objectives 

Strategic objectives are high-level, long-term objectives that help teams achieve the overall goals of a business. These objectives ensure that team members clearly understand what they're supposed to do to get the business closer to where you want it to be.

An organization's C-suite usually outlines strategic objectives at the start of the year and reviews them every quarter. It is only after they set strategic objectives that they set any other type of objectives.

  1. Tactical objectives

To grow a business, teams have to break down each strategic objective the company sets into smaller, more actionable elements. These elements are tactical objectives.

Tactical objectives focus on using the results of short-term tasks and long-term goals to inform business decisions. This type of objective is most commonly used by teams working on complicated projects with numerous short-term deliverables.

  1. Operational objectives

Operational objectives are short-term, action-oriented goals that organizations set in a bid to partially accomplish broader, long-term goals. These objectives comprise specific daily, weekly, and/or monthly tasks that teams have to executive to contribute positively to bigger business objectives (or strategic objectives). 

For instance, if your goal is to get three new business partners or investors, the immediate operational objective would be to craft a business proposal for each of your prospects.

Examples of goals and objectives 

Below are more examples of goals:

  1. Time-based goal: Expand the sales department over the course of three months 
  2. Outcome-oriented goal: Generate extra revenue from the launch of a new product
  3. Process-oriented goal: Establish a new, streamlined hiring and onboarding process

Here are more examples of objectives:

  1. Strategic objectives: Growing gross revenue to $3m by 31st Dec 2023 is a broad objective that is usually set by the leadership of a business. It’s left for the teams that constitute the business to set shorter-term objectives to reach this target. 
  2. Tactical objectives: Attracting 3 major clients from Asia Pacific region by the second quarter is a tactical objective because the sales team is solely responsible for it.
  3. Operational objectives: If your larger business objective is to start content marketing, your operational objective could be to start a blog and publish articles on it three times a week. This involves the marketing team working daily to create, edit, and format articles to upload on the blog.

Align your objectives with business goals

Goals are integral to the success of your business. But to be on the right track, your team's daily tasks should align with the business' larger goals. This ensures that your employees are all working in the same direction, even if they're taking different steps (or objectives) to get to the target. 

It's easy to get caught up chasing the newest fad or trend in your industry, but aligned objectives help keep your mind focused on the broader business goals you want to achieve.

Author bio

Althea Storm is a B2B SaaS writer who specializes in creating data-driven content that drives traffic and increases conversions for businesses—small startups and large businesses alike. She has worked with top companies like AdEspresso, HubSpot, Thinkific, and Zapier. When she's not writing web content, she's curled up in a chair reading a crime thriller or solving a Rubik's cube. 

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