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“Goals” and “Objectives”: Know the difference, get better results

By Andrew Smith | March 5, 2008

Most think of “Goals” and “Objectives” as being pretty much the same thing. However, if you want to convert creative ideas into concrete results, there is an important difference.

So that I can best demonstrate the difference, let me start with some definitions.

An “Objective” is a specific description of what is required to be achieved. They are usually described using “objective” language. In other words, precise and non-emotional terms. For example:
“My objective is to increase my income by 10% to a net $10,000 per month by August 1st, 2008”.

Objectives are frequently written to meet the so-called SMART rules. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time defined.

Now if I haven’t scared you away, let’s talk about goals. These are much more fun.

A Goal is a softer and more general description. It is something that you would like to achieve that can be described “subjectively”. The big difference is that there is no pressure to be specific. And, it’s perfectly acceptable to use emotional language.

“My goal is to be very happy and financially independent.” is quite non-specific, but still qualifies as a goal.

To some this may be unacceptably loose. However, for many, it may be their first stepping-stone on a pathway to success.

How and where to best use Goals and Objectives

Use “Goal” language here:
If you are brainstorming, using imagination or developing a vision, the less formal “goal” descriptions have strong advantages.

Here’s why: In most creative processes, we tend to think conceptually. If you have to comply with the SMART rules, creativity could be stymied. Thus people may become discouraged and innovation would suffer.

What about “Objectives”, what’s their purpose?

To convert goals into effective action plans, we use a process called “strategy formation”. The purpose of the strategy is to handle all of the ‘how to” issues.

When you have prepared your strategy properly, you should be clear on exactly what you need to do, to achieve success. This is where writing “objectives” comes in.

The writing of objectives can be a good initial test for your strategy. If you are struggling to specifically describe exactly what needs to be done, it’s a signal that your strategy could be flaky.

When your strategy is well designed, the writing of specific or SMART objectives is reasonably straightforward.

So to summarize…

Use “Goals” initially, to express the physical and emotional outcomes you seek to achieve.

Then, use “Objectives” to describe the more detailed specifics that your action or implementation plan is designed to achieve.

Footnote: In a subsequent article, I will cover a quick and simple way to design strategy.

Topics: Definitions | 21 Comments »

21 Responses to ““Goals” and “Objectives”: Know the difference, get better results”

  1. Katherine Reschke Says:
    March 6th, 2008 at 2:37 am

    Andrew, you make a very interesting distinction between goals and objectives. I do use SMART with my clients and I like the idea that you first focus on the “softer” goals before setting the SMART objective.

  2. Mark Karamira Karegyesa Says:
    April 11th, 2009 at 12:41 am

    This is a very simple yet clear distinction and explanation. Andrew, this will definitely help me in my consultancy.

  3. Naveed Akram Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Now I am able to understnad the difference between goals and objectives more effectively.

    Thanking you Mr. Andrew Smith

  4. Saadeddin Says:
    September 27th, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Tank you for this detailed description for the deference between Goals and Objectives.
    It’s very helpful to me.

  5. vendeline Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 4:54 am

    Can You please assit me to know what come first between goal and objetives?

  6. santhoshi Says:
    March 5th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    thanks a lot!!! the article cleared my confusion. examples are good

  7. Bikram Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I just liked it

  8. Chad Daniel Ramsey Says:
    April 27th, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Andrew smith i like the way you distinguish the diffrence betwwen the two. I think this will help me in planning my bussiness.


  9. Orville Says:
    June 24th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you for your simple and direct comments in this article. I found it very helpfull.

  10. Entrepreneurs Rock Says:
    March 30th, 2011 at 10:42 am

    […] To learn more about the difference between goals and objectives, read Andrew’s full article here… […]

  11. business plan goals Says:
    April 6th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    reasonable and realistic, shoot my mind.

  12. Bismark Paul Says:
    May 10th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    I am to I have been led to yopur site. I have found exactly what I have ben looking for. Thanks.

  13. Brenda Bomgardner Says:
    October 13th, 2011 at 4:59 am

    I did think goals and objectives were basically the same. I am glad to learn the difference as I am preparing a proposal for a two day workshop for mental health professional. The review board asked for goals and objectives, now I give them both with confidence.

    Thank you,

  14. Brenda Bomgardner Says:
    October 13th, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Andrew, Can you help tell me the difference between a mission statement and a vision for a bn usiness? How important are they in developing a business paln?

    Thank you, Brenda

  15. king Says:
    October 21st, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Thank you for your simple and direct comments in this article. I found it very helpfull.

  16. Dylan Fred Says:
    November 13th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    thanks for helping me with the goals and objectives for our business plan. This has really been a help.

  17. Balong Says:
    December 1st, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Sounds mystical but very realistic.
    You’re the man. Thanks.

  18. Eliot L Mathebula Says:
    March 14th, 2012 at 4:32 am

    Thank you Andrew. This will not only help me in the secular business but also in the church administration.

  19. Pasha Says:
    April 12th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Well explained Andrew. I 100% agree with your explanation. It is very simple, logical and comprehensive

  20. Taylah Says:
    August 22nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you, this has helped me to think about my goals and objectives

  21. Entrepreneurs Rock | Fivestarman Says:
    January 3rd, 2014 at 10:50 am

    […] To learn more about the difference between goals and objectives, read Andrew’s full article here… […]