A company's goals are the end results achieved if its strategic plan is successfully implemented. An effective strategic plan is designed and implemented with a company's goals in mind, in order to create a focused roadmap geared toward a clearly articulated end. Clear goals are the starting point for a clear strategic plan.
A business goal is a concrete objective that must be achieved in a predetermined period of time. The most effective business goals are defined in terms that provide specific benchmarks indicating when they are achieved. "Our goal is to considerably grow our business in the near future" is an ineffective, nonspecific goal. "We plan to increase our wholesale sales by 20 percent per year over the next five years" is more effective because it provides a specific and measurable indicator of success.
A strategic plan is a set of steps that businesses use as a vehicle to achieve its goals. Like business goals, strategic plans must be expressed in clear terms that enable stakeholders to clearly see measure their progress. A step in a strategic plan might be to expand to three new markets over the next two years as a path to the goal of increasing business by twenty percent per year. Steps in strategic plans should be based on concrete information, such as data showing precisely how many customers a business has the potential to reach by expanding to the new market in question.
Strategic plans and goals should both act in service of a company's larger mission, which is the overall purpose behind its business activities -- such as making money or improving the quality of customers' lives. While a company's mission can be expressed in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, its strategic plans and goals should both be definite and concrete. Consequently, strategic plans and goals are often expressed in numerical terms that can both be used as indicators to show whether a business is operating effectively.
While goals are end points marking achievements, strategic plans are dynamic blueprints describing processes and actions. A company is more likely to adjust its strategic plan in order to find a more effective way to meet its goals than to adjust its goals in order to stay consistent with its strategic plan. If a company's goals change, its strategic plan will likely change as well. However a business can change its strategic plan without necessarily changing its goals.