What Differences Are There Between Goals and Objectives?

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When you first look at the words “goals” and “objectives,” you might think that they can be interchangeable. Goals and objectives work in tandem in order to help yourself know what you are working toward and what you are going to do to achieve both your goal and objective. They are helpful for everyone, even if you are not using them in a professional capacity, as having something to work toward can boost your potential in the tasks that you are trying to complete.

But before you can set yourself up with goals and objectives in both your personal and professional life, you will want to understand what these words mean in a professional sense and how they differ from each other. Compared to their dictionary definitions, there is quite the difference between goals and objectives.

The Definition of a Goal

When looking at things through the lens of being a professional or running a business, a goal can be considered the overarching destination of what you want your business to accomplish or where you want to see yourself in a set amount of time. An example of this in personal life is setting the goal of wanting to compete in a local sports competition within the next two years or wanting to have a fruit-producing garden set up in your yard before the next planting season.

In essence, a goal is only the target of what you want to achieve. It doesn’t specify anything about how you are going to get there in the end, and it doesn’t give any indication of what you need to do to achieve it. It only states where you want to see yourself in the set amount of time that you have given yourself.

Goals are helpful in the sense that they give someone or a business something to work toward. For some people, the base desire for personal or professional improvement is not enough, and it can be far more motivating to have a solid goal in mind so that you can focus on achieving that goal before setting the next one.

The Definition of an Objective

By contrast, an objective is a measurable activity that you will rely on, which will commonly take you closer to approaching the corresponding goal. If your goal was to compete in a sports competition, then an objective might be to search for a place that offers said sport for you to begin practicing at. If your goal was to have a garden in your yard, then your objective might be to search for the materials that you would need to build the garden bed.

Objectives, by their nature, are always going to need to be concretely measurable. You can concretely say whether or not you are working on improving yourself at a sport, or if you are obtaining the materials to build a garden bed. You cannot necessarily measure ideas such as “I am going to focus on sports more,” meaning that this statement cannot be considered an objective in one’s personal life.

If your goal is the destination that you want to find yourself at, then the objectives are going to be the stops you make along the way. Ideally, objectives are going to be focused on helping you achieve the goal you want and will often focus on the details and particular aspects of how the goal will be met.

What Happens if You Have One Without the Other?

Goals and objectives work hand in hand, and neither are nearly as effective when you have them on their own. For instance, having a goal in mind but no objectives to reach the goal might leave you feeling unsure of how you are going to get there, leading to a lack of motivation and an overall feeling that you may not be able to achieve the goal at all. If you have objectives in place without an end goal, then you may end up not knowing which objectives to choose and where you should go.

Continuing the analogy of a goal being the destination of a trip, if you don’t have any objectives (or stops to make along the way), then you might end up losing track of where you are going and you might end up running out of steam because you are trying to achieve the goal but working in the wrong areas without any concrete progress.

Likewise, if you have stops to make along the way but no real destination in mind, then you might end up going in another direction contrary to what you really want. You might find yourself feeling lost and this can be extremely unsatisfying, no matter how much concrete progress you have made with your objectives.

How Do They Work Together?

The concept of goals and objectives in a more professional setting than their dictionary definitions imply is a great way to motivate yourself and/or your company toward a clear path of improvement. Having a goal in mind allows for you and your employees to know what they are all working toward, and it also can increase morale as people can see how much progress they have made as they approach their goals.

Objectives help to show that progress, as they are meant to be measurable in some capacity. Without the objectives, people might feel that they may not be making any progress despite doing well. Objectives can be thought of as smaller, more easily attainable goals compared to the larger and overarching goal that you are working toward.

By breaking down the final goal into smaller objective steps, you and your employees will not feel as overwhelmed when facing the goal and can feel confident in a concrete plan to reach that same goal with. When people are able to see the progress they make and when they have a solid plan to follow, it can increase productivity and help people feel as if the efforts they are making have substance to them.

How Do You Set Goals and Objectives?

Achieving both your goals and objectives is going to require strategy and tactics. While this is common terminology used in a business setting, you can apply the same concept to goals and objectives that you have in your own personal life. In a simple sense, tactics and strategy are even more specifically defined ways of achieving objectives and can be thought of as the objectives to a smaller goal.

Strategies are more abstract and less concrete than tactics are. An example of a strategy is making use of a specific resource to achieve your objective with, such as using a gym to improve your athleticism or a home improvement store to obtain materials for a garden bed. Strategies are parallel to goals in the sense that they do not have to be specific.

Tactics are the parallel to objectives and tend to be the exact steps you will take to reach the objective you have in mind. Examples of tactics could be using a specific workout regimen to improve your health and capabilities or setting aside the time in your day to begin construction on the garden bed. Tactics are not necessarily measurable per se, but they are defined tasks that you can look at and confidently say that you completed, rather than an overarching idea or concept.


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