Goals vs Objectives: You Need To Know The Difference

There is a difference. One is your ideal future. The other is a set of stepping stones toward success.

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You definitely need both, and I’m going to show you how they fit together.

First: make no mistake — not having goals is a huge problem. If you expect to wake up in twenty years and magically have everything you want, then you’re only planning to fail.

Hard work alone isn’t even enough.

You have to decide on a vision and plan on how to make it happen. Doing that will give you direction, motivation, and focus. It’s going to take years of effort, after all.

But, there’s even more to it:

Not only do you need that vision for the long-term — you need something tangible for today as well.

It’s actually the interaction of these two ideas that create success. Achieving big dreams requires a whole process. You have to know where you’re going and how to get there.

So:

What exactly are these two ideas that work so well together?

Goals and objectives.

Goals vs Objectives

There’s a lot of variety in the way goals and objectives are described.

People consistently use the words goal and objective interchangeably. That would be OK if it was just a matter of labels.

But:

It’s not.

They fail to correctly separate goals from objectives — and the idea behind each. It’s actually very important to make the distinction clear.

Goals and objectives are both crucial to a plan, but they serve very different purposes.

So first, let’s define them separately.

What Are Goals?

Goals are desired outcomes that describe a vision for the future. They state broad aspirations — giving driving force to everything you do. They are the big picture.

The focus of a goal is the general intention of what a person or organization is going to achieve in the longer term.

Therefore:

These are wide in scope, spanning multiple years — maybe even decades.

The goals can also be abstract. That’s because you don’t work directly on goals, but instead use them to guide the tasks that are undertaken.

It’s OK if a goal doesn’t include a path to success. They don’t need to be precisely specific either.

As you move closer to achieving goals, more measurable objectives and specific targets will be created.

Individuals use both career goals and personal goals to guide their effort and give focus.

Organizations specify them as company goals to help everyone share a direction and purpose. They are also included in a company’s business plan and mission statement.

The key point is that goals describe the end-point, not the process.

Examples of Goals

  • Publish a book in my professional area
  • Travel to every continent
  • Run a marathon
  • Start my own business
  • Become the CEO of my company
  • Start a charity to help my community

You’ll notice that none of these goals are specific enough to act on immediately. Everyone would require planning, and important steps along the way.

And that’s exactly what we’ll cover next.

What Are Objectives?

Objectives close the gap between the current situation and your goals. They are the means to your desired ends — giving precise actions to take toward the aspirations.

Objectives are targets that directly guide the short-term effort. And so they must apply the SMART goal setting framework: Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

They focus on direct action and tangible progress.

So:

They need to be specific and clear. They also must have measurable steps, such as key performance indicators. Objectives are actionable and relevant to the goals they are designed to achieve.

And objectives also need to include a timeline to aim for. There’s no room for vague aspiration here — not if the goals are to eventually happen. They should always be attainable within a year.

That means your day to day efforts should be in pursuit of objectives.

Examples of Objectives

  • Publish one blog post per week for the next month
  • Book travel and accommodation to one new country before the end of this year
  • Go for 5 runs of at least 2km this week
  • Complete an online course on personal branding before the end of next month
  • Earn a promotion before the end of the year, by exceeding my sales targets and volunteering for leadership roles
  • Volunteer at least 5 hours of my time to community organizations every week for six months

These are all relevant to the goals I showed you above, but they focus on the next year. They also give metrics to determine success. There’s a timeline in each, and all are specific enough to put into action.

That’s a nice introduction to the key differences between goals and objectives.

Let’s explore them a bit more.

What is the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

Goals describe a vision for the future. Objectives give practical steps to make progress.

Both are relevant to your desired outcomes, but the timelines will be different.

Goals focus on long-term outcomes, and therefore more aspirational. This makes them less precise.

Objectives are what you focus on in the short time-frame to achieve goals.

Let’s focus on those 2 key differences.

Goals Can Be Vague, Objectives Must Be Specific

Where goals can be vague, and harder to measure, objectives are not. They must always be specific about the aim.

Therefore:

Objectives need to accurately describe the specific actions to take, and how to measure them.

Otherwise, your hard work won’t be focused enough.

Timeline Differences Between Goals vs Objectives

It doesn’t really matter how long your goals will take to achieve. It’s nice to have an idea and be ambitious, but the point is not precision.

Objectives are always short-term though.

They shouldn’t cover more than a year. That’s because they need to feel achievable and close enough to work directly toward. Without that, you won’t see the connection between the vision and your daily effort.

So, put most simply:

You accomplish your dreams by achieving goals. You achieve your goals by reaching objectives.

Work on objectives now to achieve your goals in the future.

Goals vs Objectives: How they Work Together

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The key to long-term success is making goals and objectives work together. You can’t afford to have a weak link in the chain.

But why?

Without goals, you have nothing to guide or motivate objectives. And trying to reach a long-term vision without objectives is going to be inefficient. Maybe even pointless.

So by having both, you get both benefits: big aspirations and narrow focus.

Using Goals and Objectives Together Creates a Process

Achieve your desired outcomes by building a process to get you there. Start with the end result in mind, and work backward creating steps to reach along the way.

If you get them in the right order, each step feeds into the next. You can start today, taking the first steps. And what are those steps? They’re specific objectives.

Suddenly, you aren’t years away from one big success. You’re months, weeks, or even days away from an objective that you know how to reach. And you’re also safe to get stuck in knowing your efforts are in the right direction.

Sounds pretty simple so far, right?

2 Extra Tools: Strategies and Tactics

Goals and objectives are the main components of planning success. However, if you are breaking down components of goal-setting, there’s a couple more to add.

How do you describe the direction of objectives? You come up with a strategy.

Use Strategies to Find Objectives

Strategies aren’t actionable like objectives but instead give you a direction. They are the approach individuals or organizations will take in reaching goals.

You can see how this could be important within a large company:

Everyone can see the company’s vision, but then lots of people need to coordinate objectives to get there. You need them to be on the same page about the strategy to take.

Let’s look at an example that demonstrates how strategy fits with goals and objectives. If the broad goal is:

Then the strategy must guide the planning of this. Your objectives need to increase revenue, so the strategy could be:

This strategy is barely more actionable than your general goal. It doesn’t need to be. Instead, it guides the kind of objectives to set.

So, a range of short-term objectives can be created under the strategy:

And that brings us to the last tool: tactics.

Using Tactics to Achieve Objectives

Even with these specific and measurable objectives, there’s room to give more detail. Tactics can help — they describe the execution of objectives.

By this point, we aren’t dealing with goal-setting anymore, but it’s useful to understand the full picture.

From our example, the objective of identifying potential companies for acquisition could require:

You can see these start to look just like a list of specific tasks. And that’s what they are. Use tactics to achieve objectives. Coordinate objectives so they add up to achieving project goals.

That’s how you make vision reality.

Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand. We’re focusing on goals and objectives.

How to Set Goals and Objectives In Your Life

We’ve covered what goals and objectives are. I’ve shown you how they work together. It’s time to get a bit more practical.

We’re going to run through an example of a personal goal first. You will be able to see how goals and objectives fit together.

Step 1: Turn Your Vision Into Goals

OK, let’s say your dream is to own your own house. Whether you want to grow vegetables in the backyard or enjoy the security — this is the vision. Your goals need to pretty accurately describe this.

So, the goals are:

  • Purchase a property within 5 years
  • Pay off the mortgage within 10 years

These are acceptable long-term goals — they have timelines and give you a good idea of what you’re working toward.

However:

There’s nothing in these goals that shows you how to make the vision happen. So let’s do that.

Step 2: Build a Strategy to Reach the Goals

This is where you figure out the approach you are going to take.

Buying a property is going to require money and commitment. You need to save money and choose a neighborhood.

So the strategy might be:

  • Rent a cheaper apartment initially and increase personal income
  • Sell current assets and eventually find areas to search for properties

At this point, we’ve got a bit of an idea about how the goals can be reached, but there’s still nothing actionable about our plan.

That’s where objectives come in.

Step 3: Turn Your Goals Into Objectives

Let’s focus on the first goal: buying property within 5 years. That’s going to require that you have savings to pay a deposit, and enough income for a bank to approve your loan.

And that’s what your objectives need to focus on.

You could decide to:

Each of these directly addresses the goal. They all allow you to save money for the deposit.

Also, given our timeline, you can focus on achieving these before spending time researching areas to purchase a house in.

They are specific, achievable, and actionable as well — you can start working on them today.

For example, you can achieve the objective of earning a promotion by:

And all of a sudden, we’ve gone from having an idea about buying a house one day to having actionable tasks to work on right now.

We did that by using goals and objectives together.

Step 4: Hold Weekly Reviews

As you work toward your own objectives, I strongly recommend you hold weekly reviews.

Take an hour at the start or end of your week. Look at the progress you made toward your objectives. Check that everything you did was relevant to your end goals.

Make adjustments and plan out the next objectives as you reach current targets. Use a schedule and time management strategies to prioritize the objectives.

This exercise will keep you on track, help you reach objectives faster. You also get to celebrate progress.

If you need to change your approach or rethink your goals, this is a good chance for that too.

And that’s the end of our example. I hope you can see how important it is to separate goals and objectives. It should also now be clear that you need to have both to succeed.

Business Goals vs Objectives Example

As we’ve established, goals and objectives work for organizations and individuals. The process is the same, and most of the benefits are too.

Let’s run through a business goal example that requires objectives.

Business Goal Example: “Increase company sales to $10,000,000 per year within 5 years.”

This goal is specific and measurable, which helps. But, if the sales team is given this goal, how would they pursue it?

They would need objectives.

The sales department could be given the following objectives to work on straight away:

And now the large goal has some immediate actions to go with it.

One Last Note On Achieving Success

OK, that’s just about everything. To summarize so far:

Goals are statements of desired results. Objectives are the short-term targets you work on to reach the goals.

Both are essential for planning your future because neither can get you there alone.

And one final bit of advice:

Use their differences to your advantage. Set big, huge goals. Anything and everything you’ve ever wanted. Because you don’t have to be able to reach a goal today.

You just need to come up with an objective or two and get started.

I’ll leave that in your capable hands.

Work hard, and enjoy the process.

Good luck.

Field Notes

  • Goals are long-term statements of your vision
  • Objectives are more specific, measurable, and have timelines
  • Goals are more aspirational than objectives
  • Both goals and objectives are always relevant to your vision
  • Strategies are used to guide the objectives that will be used to achieve goals

Written by

Productivity and personal development. Sign up to my 5-Bullet Monday Newsletter: http://DanSilvestre.com

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