Goals vs objectives and why you got it wrong

The difference between goals and objectives, and why it matters for your team

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Do you use the words goal and objective as interchangeable phrases when you talk with your team members or outline your company plans?

Goals and objectives are often confused with each other, as they both describe desired outcomes and results that you or your company want to achieve. However, what sets goals and objectives apart is the timeframe, the level of concreteness, the way you measure them, and the effect they have on your organization.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, they have major differences and significant implications for your company. So it's critical that your team is on the same page when it comes to this terminology.

In this post, we’re going to describe the difference between goals and objectives and provide clear examples to help you overcome vagueness in your company communication.

What are goals?

Setting goals is vital for every company because goals determine the broad, long-term outcomes you want to achieve. They give you the overarching direction for your business plan and define where you want to be in the future.

You might use goals in your yearly and quarterly company strategy, your positioning, mission statement, company culture guide, financial projections, and other crucial business documents and initiatives. The right goals will align with your company vision, purpose, and long-term aspirations.

Goals are large in size and intangible; that’s why they are hard to measure. As a company, your goals could be to:

  • Increase international customer base
  • Foster a more inclusive company culture
  • Improve cross-team communication
  • Build trust between cross-functional departments

While these are worthy goals, there are no specific timeframes or actions that guide you on how to reach your destination. What defines an “inclusive company culture?” What are the particular tasks you need to complete? How would you know you’ve reached the goal?

A goal describes where your company wants to be in the future, but unlike objectives, it doesn’t explain how you plan to get there.

What’s the difference between goals and objectives?

Objectives are the specific actions and measurable steps your company must take to reach its goals. They give you a clear understanding of the specific tasks or projects that need to be completed in order to get closer to the primary goal.

Goals and objectives are different concepts, but they work in harmony to help you achieve the desired results and maximize your team’s productivity. Creating goals without clear objectives leads to goals that never get accomplished.

Goals vs objectives differences

To make goals actionable, they need to be broken down into objectives and KPIs (key performance indicators). Here is how you could break down an example goal into measurable objectives:

Difference between goals and objectives diagram

Business Goal: Increase international customer base

  • Objective: Acquire 28% more customers from the UK, Australia, and Germany, in the next three months
  • Outbound sales team objective: Reach out to 20 additional international prospects per week
  • Product department objective: Translate the onboarding flow and reduce the time for onboarding from 12 days to five days for all international customers in the next three months
  • Marketing department objective: Reduce cost-per-click from $2.50 to $0.50 for international digital ad campaigns and increase the reach from 100 to 500 people per week

Objectives has the word “object” in it. Objects are concrete. Because of this, objectives can be scoped with timeframes, budgets, and tangible results. A lot of organizations use the S.M.A.R.T criteria and goal setting method to define and measure objectives. S.M.A.R.T is an acronym for:

  • Specific — Objectives have a high level of concreteness with real metrics and deadlines that need to be tracked. For example, “Generate 50 leads from the UK before 30 Oct” is more specific than “increase the international customer base.”
  • Measurable — Make sure that you can track your objective. What’s the key performance indicator (KPI) that you’re going to track?
  • Attainable — Objectives are challenging but possible. “Helping 10 million international businesses be more productive” is an admirable goal but not very actionable if you have 100 customers. Don't try to conquer the world overnight.
  • Relevant — Is the objective related to your long-term goal, and does it align with your company vision?
  • Time-bound — Your objective needs to have a concrete deadline. “Someday” is not a day of the week.

How to connect your goals with your objectives in practice

Range is a suite of team productivity tools that helps you align high-level goals with what’s happening on the ground so that everyone has insight into how projects are progressing. Set quarterly goals, review them in weekly meetings, and log work with quick daily check-ins.

With Range, you can set objectives that align your team to your bigger goals. Manage goals and OKRs that connect to your team’s daily work to build alignment and transparency.

Range works with tools like Slack, Asana, Trello, GitHub, and more, so it’s easy to connect your tasks, documents, and code changes with your objectives. Start your free trial of Range today and begin connecting your company goals with your objectives.

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