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.