What's the Difference Between Goals & Objectives?

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"Goals" and "objectives" are different concepts in the workplace.
"Goals" and "objectives" are different concepts in the workplace. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

The terms "goal" and "objective" often are used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings, especially in a business setting or in formal strategy planning. Generally, a "goal" is used for a vague, long-term ideal, but "objective" is used for short-term, specific outcomes.

Goals

Goals are typically long-term aims of an organization. Goals are more general and less structured than objectives. Generally, a goal is more of an abstract idea that a person or company works toward achieving, such as "provide good customer service" or "put people above profits." Goals are ongoing procedures that are never completed.

Objectives

Objectives are specific actions that must be taken to achieve desired outcomes. Objectives are generally outlined into steps or actions, and often include deadlines and budget limitations. Unlike goals, which generally apply to all workers in the organization, objectives are generally assigned to specific workers or teams who have the expertise to accomplish the tasks on time.

Measure

A major difference between goals and objectives is their measurability. Because goals are more like ideals, they don't have specific actions that can be measured -- such as "be a good corporate citizen" or "safety is our priority."

Objectives result in specific outcomes that can be directly measured, such as profits, productivity and employee retention. They are specific steps that can be checked off a list, and can be monitored for their completeness.

Examples

The terms are not exclusive to the workplace. An example of a personal goal would be to learn more about the history of a country or about your local culture, or to generally improve your performance in sports, work or school. Examples of personal objectives would be to learn conversational French, lose 20 lbs., or increase your savings by 15 percent per month.

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