In the business arena, certain words get used interchangeably, but they have distinct definitions. In particular, the words “goals” and “objectives” are casually swapped in and out, with little regard for their precise meaning.
While confounding them may seem like a minor annoyance or oversight, serious consequences can result from failure to recognize the difference between the two and how they relate to one another.
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The Difference Between Goals and Objectives (and How to Use Both to Win)
What is a Goal?
“Simply put, a goal is a written statement describing what you want to achieve within a deadline,”David Weedmark, MBA explains
“Business goals include those for the company as a whole, goals for each department, and goals for each employee. Ideally, they should all be aligned so that employee and department goals help the entire company reach its goals.”
A goal should be something that’s specific, measurable, and achievable, yet challenging enough to inspire effort and execution. It’s designed to spur a company to action and provide focus, while also stretching individuals to a point where they have to work together and cultivate or learn new skills.
In order for a goal to be a valid one, it needs to be transparent and understandable for those who are expected to come into alignment with it. Goals can’t be secretive and be expected to succeed.
What is an Objective?
“Objectives are the ‘what’ of a goal. The objective expresses the intent of a goal and should be tangible and unambiguous,” PinnacleART explains.
“If a clearly set objective is achieved it should be obvious to an outside rational observer. Be aggressive but realistic in setting your objectives. Strive to accomplish something that is just outside of your reach.”
If a goal is a big picture “the finish line, per se” objectives are the steps along the way, the checkpoints on the path to the finish line. They tend to be highly focused, measurable, and quantifiable. In fact, it’s by the success of individual objectives that the success of the general goal is measured.
Objectives are designed to keep a business on track. They’re part motivation and part measurement. Without objectives, it’s easy to get lost in the middle and lose sight of what’s being pursued.
Developing Goal-Centric Objectives
In order for a business to be successful, it can’t only set goals. There need to be goal-centric objectives attached to each goal.
Let’s study a tangible example to understand what this looks like in practice. Imagine you run a digital marketing agency and your goal is to reach $1 million in revenue by the end of the year. Helpful objectives may be:
- Create a new entry-level product with the purpose of acquiring new customers.
- Upsell 20 percent of the existing client base to the next level package.
- Drive 30 percent more traffic from social media profiles to a targeted landing page.
- Hire one further sales expert who can nurture at least 50 warm leads per week.
Each of these might be a goal in and of itself, but they all feed the big-picture goal of achieving $1 million in revenue. This makes them goal-centric objectives. When compiled together and implemented in unison, they’ll increase the chances for success.
Focus Your Business
Goals and objectives play a key role in moving any company forward, but they have to be set and implemented with purpose. Too much of a focus on goals will tire people out.
Too little focus will erase any sense of resolve in your employees. That’s why it’s crucial to set only goals that directly benefit the company and to celebrate when they’re achieved.
As a consultant, Wendy Pat Fong advises, “Reward and recognize yourself and others when a milestone has been reached. The more positive reinforcement you are receiving such as recognition and reward, the more likely you will keep displaying those behaviors.”
It’s also necessary to measure your results and to track key performance indicators (KPIs) over time. This will give you a quantifiable method for perceiving progress. It also removes the emotional side of the situation, which can easily mislead you and your team.
Though related, business goals and objectives aren’t identical. As you seek growth and improvement, recognizing this unique relationship will allow you to achieve better results. Good luck!
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