The Primary Differences Between Goal vs. Objective

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Goals and objectives help you achieve a desired outcome, either for yourself or for business purposes. While there are significant differences to consider between them, they both serve an essential role in helping you reach your endeavours. Clearly defining your goals and objectives can make it easier to create strategies for accomplishing them quickly and efficiently. In this article, we discuss the primary differences between a goal vs. objective, explore why they are beneficial and review how to write a goal and objective statement.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition, Template and Examples

What are goals?

Goals are brief descriptions or statements that detail a specific outcome that someone hopes to achieve over an extended period of time. Goals generally take years to accomplish and require consistent effort and commitment to see them to completion. The statement is general and simply states the desired outcome rather than describing the steps and objectives to achieve it. Goals are versatile, though they may be attainable, meaning you can realistically complete them through your own hard work and dedication.

Here are some common examples of goals:

  • Increasing revenue growth

  • Getting a job promotion

  • Obtaining a college degree

  • Getting a new job

  • Starting a new business

  • Learning a new skill

  • Increasing efficiency

Related: Career Goals: How To Set, Examples and Tips for Achieving

What are objectives?

Objectives are actionable steps you take and achieve within a relatively short period of time in order to achieve a specific goal. Depending on the objectives, you can generally complete them within a few months to a year. Most goals have several objectives that someone may complete before they can accomplish the goal. For example, if you have a goal to learn a new language, then you might set an objective that says something like, "Memorise the entire French alphabet in two months."

Here are some examples of what an objective could look like:

  • Complete half of the manuscript before the next quarter

  • Boost company sales by 25% by the end of the year

  • Increase customer retention by 10% over the next six months

  • Increase the number of programme tickets sold to 200 by the end of the summer.

Related: What Is a Career Objective?

The difference between a goal vs. objective

Here are the primary differences when you look at a goal vs. objective:

Timeframe

You set a goal to achieve it over an extended period of time, while you set objectives that you can complete quickly. The time that it takes to accomplish a goal varies based on the specific goal. Generally, it can take a few years to complete a goal, especially if it requires many tasks to be fulfilled beforehand.

In comparison, you can have multiple objectives that you work to complete over several timeframes, allowing you to achieve them in quick succession. You can have multiple goals as well, but this may delay how quickly you can achieve them, since you may split your time between each of them.

Purpose

You primarily set a goal when you want to accomplish something really significant. Goals generally require extensive amounts of commitment and dedication to complete. In contrast, objectives help you achieve a goal. They are smaller individual tasks that you complete, so you can move on to the next one.

Specificity

A goal is a blanket statement that doesn't provide any explicit details. It simply states what the final outcome is that you want to achieve, and doesn't specify any tasks. In comparison, objectives are very specific actions that you take within a set period of time. An objective directly explains what needs to be done.

Benefits of setting goals and objectives

Here are some of the benefits of setting clear and meaningful goals:

  • Provides direction: goals can help to direct your efforts toward a specific purpose or outcome, making it easier for you to envision what it is that you want to accomplish.

  • Helps with prioritisation: setting goals helps you to reflect on your future and consider what's most important. When you clearly understand what is and is not important, it can become easier to set your priorities towards a desired outcome.

  • Motivates you to be more active: consciously thinking about your goals and the satisfaction you might gain from accomplishing them can help to motivate you to remain active in your pursuit of a positive outcome.

  • Supports decision-making: when you have a goal set, it can become easier for you to know what decisions to make to achieve it.

  • Boosts confidence: as you see positive progress leading towards the completion of your goal, that development can encourage and provide you with more confidence to continue striving for the desired end result.

  • Helps you discover your potential: as you work to complete your goals, you may discover through the process that you possess skills, abilities or talents that you might not have been aware of beforehand.

Here are some benefits of planning out actionable objectives:

  • Measures your progress: objectives help you to measure the progress you are making towards completing your goals. As you complete an objective, you can see that you get closer to achieving your desired outcome.

  • Provides a sense of accomplishment: as you complete objectives, you may feel a sense of accomplishment and that could motivate you to persevere through any challenging circumstances.

  • Helps with problem-solving: the more objectives you complete, the more you become comfortable and familiar with solving problems and making difficult decisions.

  • Helps set expectations: if you're someone in a managerial or leadership position, objectives can help you set expectations for what your employees and team members can accomplish, helping them work towards a shared goal.

Related: How To Develop Skill Sets in 9 Steps

How to write a goal and objective statement

Here are four steps to help you write a goal and objective statement:

1. Identify what you want to achieve

The first step to writing a goal and objective statement is to identify what you want to accomplish. There may be a personal goal you've always wanted to achieve, like learning computer programming or sign language. There are also instances when you might set a goal for business purposes, like opening up a new branch or boosting customer retention. Whatever the reason may be, it's important that you try to define the goal as clearly as possible.

2. Measure how long it may take to complete

The next step is to determine how long it could take to achieve your goals. For some goals, you can estimate the amount of time it takes or set a deadline for yourself. Give yourself a timeline for when you can expect to complete the goal, as this can help to motivate you to stay focused on your tasks, so you can minimise any potential delays.

3. Determine the necessary tasks to accomplish

The last step is to compile a list of all the tasks and objectives to complete in order to achieve your goal successfully and in a timely manner. The number of tasks to complete is likely to vary based on your specific goals. Make certain that the tasks are feasible and measurable, meaning you can track your progress and identify if you're making positive steps towards the goal.

4. Write the statement

When you have the components of the objectives and goals determined, you can write a concise statement reflecting all those details. For example, if your goal is to get a job promotion to become a head nurse, then you might write the following goal and objective statements:

  • Goal: "My goal is get promoted to Head Nurse by the end of the year"

  • Objective 1: "I will volunteer for 10 or more leadership responsibilities within the next two months"

  • Objective 2: "I will improve my performance rating by 50% before the end of this quarter"

  • Objective 3: "I will earn an additional certification in four months"

What comes first, goals or objectives?

Generally, goals come first because you need a goal in order to set objectives. However, this is not completely definitive and can differ depending on each individual. Some people who have not clearly defined their goals may have a vague idea of what they want to accomplish and could begin accomplishing general objectives until they are certain what their goal is.

For example, if your goal is to become a college professor, but you're not completely sure what subject to teach, then you might set general objectives like:

  • Go to college and major in general studies

  • Volunteer as a teacher's aide or assistant

  • Compile a list of subjects to consider teaching

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