In the world of personal growth and professional excellence, an age-old rivalry continues to spark curiosity: goals versus objectives.
Both are driving forces behind our achievements. But what's the real difference between these two motivators?
It's an important distinction — understanding when to set a goal and when to set an objective can make or break the success of your next initiative. Let's explore the unique roles, benefits, and practical applications of the two so you can chart your course toward a fulfilling and accomplished career.
What's a goal?
A goal is a big-picture, attainable outcome. In project management terms, it's what lies at the end of your project roadmap.
There are three primary types of goals:
- Time-bound goals speak directly to deadlines and work within a specific timeframe. These are often dictated by strategic plans at the company level and expectations from higher-ups.
- Outcome-oriented goals focus on the final result rather than how long it will take to get there. These are long-term action items such as significant business expansions or new product lines.
- Process-oriented goals prioritize the work it will take to reach the end result. Business upgrades, such as new software implementation or streamlined internal processes, often fall into this category.
What are objectives?
Objectives are the specific targets that help your team meet a goal. You can think of them as pit stops or milestones along the journey — they're the smaller achievements that propel you toward the final destination.
If your goal is to open a new subsidiary in another town, your objectives would be the action items you must complete to get there, such as purchasing land, filing the correct permits, and building a structure.
Like goals, objectives typically fall into one of three categories:
- Strategic objectives support high-level, long-term goals that align with an organization's overall vision and guide its strategic planning and decision-making.
- Tactical objectives align with short-term deliverables. They outline actionable steps toward achieving strategic objectives that contribute to the company's business strategy in the here and now.
- Operational objectives are short-term and detailed action items that focus on specific tasks, processes, or actions necessary to support tactical objectives and ensure efficient day-to-day operations within the organization. This might include creating task schedules and connecting collaborating departments.
Goals versus objectives: What's the difference?
In the realm of project management, goals and objectives are an inseparable duo — but the two serve completely different functions. Let's explore the difference between goals and objectives to better understand how they work together:
Objectives are the backbone of an initiative, supporting the success of specific actions and tasks. Goals, on the other hand, provide the overarching vision, giving purpose and direction to the project. A goal can apply to a single project or an entire organization, while objectives exist at a smaller scale, reflecting the granular tasks you need to complete to be successful.
A goal shouldn't consist of every single action item — they're general initiatives you create to move your project or company forward. Once you set a goal, you then brainstorm and list the specific objectives your team must accomplish in order to realize the big-picture change.
You can measure goal progress based on the status of your objectives: the more you've tackled, the closer you are to realizing your goal. Objectives, on the other hand, are tied to specific and tangible metrics. If your goal is to launch a social media presence for your brand, a relevant and measurable objective would be to gain 100 Instagram followers in one week.
In project management, goals are typically long-term initiatives that aim your efforts toward something you seek to achieve down the road. While you can set short-term goals, the objectives you create to achieve them will fall within even shorter timeframes. This means that objectives are always shorter-term relative to the goals they serve.
Using goals and objectives to make change
Goal setting and objectives work best in tandem. So how can you combine them to strengthen your next big undertaking?
1. Set a goal
Brainstorm innovations that align with company initiatives or mission statements. What must change in order to propel your organization to new heights?
Create a list of actionable, realistic, and attainable goals and rank them by importance. Choose the item that best aligns with your current resources and needs, then distill the concept into a concrete statement that highlights the importance of the idea in a way that's easy to read and understand. After all, your goal statement should assure stakeholders and decision-makers that you'll be working toward a significant company initiative and not constructing a project that serves little purpose.
2. Create SMART objectives
Once you've landed on a goal, break progress down into a list of objectives. Employ the SMART methodology (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) to maximize the impact of each objective:
- Specific: Vague objectives are a recipe for confusion. Each action item should be specific and focused so everyone involved can easily understand what's expected of them.
- Measurable: How will you measure progress and know when an objective is complete? Draft action items that align with tangible metrics.
- Attainable: An unrealistic task is a recipe for frustration. Set objectives that your company has the resources and personnel to tackle.
- Relevant: Don't waste time on objectives that don't serve your goal. Ensure that each item on your list drives progress and takes you one step closer to the end target.
- Time-bound: Every objective needs a deadline. When should your team complete this work by?
3. Build a strategy
Work with your team to create a strategy to transform the project plan into action. Consider who will undertake each objective, what resources the team will need to support their work, and how you'll oversee progress and streamline communication. Consider applying a project management strategy like the agile, scrum, or waterfall methodologies to your team's work.
Examples of goals and objectives
Sometimes it's easiest to understand a new concept by seeing it at work. Here are two examples of action plans that combine goals and objectives:
Example #1: Communication
Goal: Improve communication across departments to mitigate wasted time and resources and streamline work.
- Purchase a Slack subscription as soon as possible.
- Have the office manager learn Slack and prepare an introductory presentation on how to use the application due next Monday.
- Have all staff members join Slack by EOD Wednesday.
- Following two weeks of use, have the office manager seek feedback from team members via a Google form to determine where communication breaks down.
- Have the office manager design and present a follow-up to their initial instructions that addresses employee questions and concerns (due three weeks after implementation).
#2: Improve sales
Goal: Increase product sales by 10% annually.
- Hire two new junior-level sales representatives by the end of the month.
- Implement a CRM system to track and manage customer interactions by the end of the month.
- Have the head of the sales department learn the CRM software and implement a training session for all sales team members by the 10th of next month.
- Have the sales department allocate 10 more hours per week to new customer outreach for 12 weeks.
- Launch a 6-week social media marketing campaign on Instagram and bring in a minimum of 3 new clients.
- Have the sales team focus on selling additional services to existing customers for 12 weeks.
Measuring goals and objectives: OKRs and KPIs
Remember: It's essential to measure and monitor the progress of your initiatives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) track the overall progress of your goals, while objectives and key results (OKRs) focus on the measurable minutia of your essential tasks and deliverables.
There are three main components to focus on when measuring goals and objectives:
1. Data points
Different data points contribute to either KPIs or OKRs. At a global scale, growth numbers, year-over-year averages, and sales numbers are solid items to feed into your weekly or monthly KPIs. For OKRs, task-related metrics such as competition rates or time-to-finish statistics inform your team of short-term progress.
2. Past performance
Compare current KPIs or OKRs to past data (especially when navigating internal or process-oriented goals). This is the best way to gauge improvement over previous attempts, pinpoint problem areas, and validate your new process's functionality.
3. Reporting structure
KPI and OKR reporting work best when it follows a set structure — this makes it easier to compare weekly or monthly progress. Schedule recurring meetings to review data and use a work breakdown structure to assign different aspects of your reporting to team members based on their department and contributions. For instance, your product development team should present OKRs related to product testing while the project manager is best suited to share KPIs related to overall goal progress.
Tackle new goals with Tempo
Project management is an intense process. Save yourself some crucial brainpower and map your projects with Roadmunk by Tempo.
Roadmunk helps you create audience-friendly visual roadmaps to share with your team. And with a high-level overview of your goals and objectives, you can easily assign work, prioritize key tasks, and track your progress.
And don’t forget the importance of timeliness — we can help there, too. Check out Timesheets by Tempo to keep action items on schedule and monitor your resources.