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Goals vs. Objectives: Why You Need Both to Succeed

August 31, 2021

Setting clear goals and objectives is one of the best ways to keep your team aligned on your mission and how you’re going to achieve it. 

But being on different pages about the actual meaning of goals and objectives is a bad place to start. 

Unfortunately, this happens a lot. It’s common to hear these two terms used interchangeably. ”What are our goals?” “How can we reach our objectives?” Many people would provide the same answer to these two questions. 

In fact, even some of the most well-known goal-setting frameworks (think SMART goals) get the two terms confused. 

Goals and objectives aren’t synonymous. The nuance between them is small, but it’s significant. And it’s important to understand how they work together to keep you on track. We’ll outline the major difference between goals vs. objectives, and how to use both to set yourself and your company up for success.

Defining the difference between goals vs. objectives 

With everyone throwing around goals and objectives like they’re the same thing, it can get confusing. In reality, the difference between the two is simple. 

So while they’re not the same, they work hand in hand to create a plan for the future. Without objectives, you won’t have a path to reach your goals. Without goals, you won’t have a direction for your objectives. 

What is a goal? 

What do you want to achieve? That’s the question every goal should answer. Goals provide you and your team with direction. 

Setting clear and specific goals helps everything else fall into place. When everyone’s on the same page about where you’re trying to go, your team can stay focused, accountable and motivated – ultimately getting you there faster. 

In the 1990s, Psychologist Dr. Edwin A. Locke and his colleague Dr. Gary Latham developed A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance. The theory states that goals have the power to motivate our actions, not only consciously but subconsciously too. But not all goals are made equal and some are better motivators than others. 

In their research, Locke and Latham outline five core principles to goal-setting:

  1. Clarity: Goals should be concise and well-defined.
  2. Challenge: While goals need to be attainable, they should also pose a challenge. In fact, Locke and Latham found that if goals are too easy they have the opposite effect and can actually demotivate people. 
  3. Commitment: Your goals require buy-in from your team. If only one person’s committed to a shared goal, it’s going to be challenging to reach. A great way to get everyone to commit is to develop your goals together as a team. 
  4. Feedback: Feedback is essential to the process of creating, achieving and retrospectively reviewing goals. Feedback provides the opportunity to adjust your goal and/or the way you’re going about achieving it. Don’t set it and forget it. This isn’t limited to feedback from others. If the goals you’re creating are for yourself, take the time to reflect and check in on how you’re doing. 
  5. Task complexity: Goals shouldn’t be easy to achieve but they should be easy to understand. If your goals are too complex it can have a negative impact on morale. For more intricate goals, make sure you break them down into smaller steps, with realistic timeframes and milestones.

Goals are your compass. Use them to keep your whole team moving in one direction: toward success. 

Types of goals 

When it comes to goals, one size doesn’t fit all. 

The type of goal you set is highly dependent on who it’s being created for. For example, while everyone within a company should be working toward the same ultimate goal, each team and each individual should have their own goals that ladder up. 

Think of your goals as a pyramid. At the top are your company goals which cascade into lower levels of the organization, including team and individual goals. When starting your goal-setting process, here are some types of goals to consider: 

Company goals

Company goals are typically a high-level, longer-term vision. They provide direction for everyone in the organization and are fundamental to the company’s mission. 

One popular framework for setting company goals is big hair audacious goals (BHAG). The concept of BHAG first appeared in James Collins and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. These are bold, long-term goals, looking at least 10 years into the future. They’re intended to move the needle. 

Here are some examples of BHAGs from companies you’ll recognize: 

  • Ford: “Democratize the automobile.” (1900s)
  • Microsoft: “A computer on every desk, in every home.” (1980s)
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (1990s) 
  • SpaceX: “To revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” (early 2000s)

Whether or not you use the BHAG framework is up to you. Regardless, the absolute most important part of setting company goals is that they’re communicated clearly and consistently to every level of your organization. Fewer than half of the working population knows their company goals – make sure that’s not you. 

Team goals

Your team goals are how your team commits to working toward the larger company goals together. These will likely be shorter-term, more focused, and less aspirational. 

Example:

  • Company goal: Become the #1 choice of sales software for small businesses in the U.S.
  • Marketing team goal: Grow awareness for the brand among small business owners by 150% this quarter

Team goals are focused on what your team should aim to achieve. They also ladder up into the organization’s high-level goal. Developing team goals isn’t only the responsibility of the manager or team lead, it needs to be a joint effort from the whole team to help achieve buy-in. When you work together to create your goals, you’ll foster a team culture of accountability and ownership. 

Similar to your organization’s goals, make sure your team goals are communicated regularly. A great way to ensure they stay top of mind is to keep them at the top of your team meeting agenda. That way you’ll keep coming back to them every single week.

team goal agenda

Role-specific goals

Role-specific goals should be guided by company and team goals. These goals are just as important to the health of an organization as group goals are.  

By aligning individual goals to business goals, it’s clear to employees where they fit into the big picture and how they can make an impact. It gives them a sense of belonging and ownership. And when employees feel like they belong, they perform better. In fact, an HBR report found that there’s a link between employees with a high sense of belonging and increased job performance.

Example: 

  • Company goal: Become the #1 choice of sales software for small businesses in the U.S.
  • Marketing team goal: Grow awareness for the brand among small business owners by 150% this quarter
  • Social media manager goal: Increase social engagement on brand accounts by 50% month-over-month

Professional development goals

While professional development goals are personal to individual employees, they also have huge potential to benefit your organization at large. When you’re setting professional development goals, try to find harmony between business priorities and an individual’s desired growth path.

Professional development goals should look at both where individual employees are interested in improving and skills gaps within the organization at large. Your sweet spot for setting goals is where those two factors overlap. 

For example, if your team is looking for more support on graphic design, and one of your team members is interested in learning how to hone their design skills, their professional development goal could be to feel comfortable using Adobe InDesign by the end of the year. 

When your company, team and individual goals are all aligned it’s referred to as cascading goals. The benefit of setting up cascading goals is that no matter what level of the organization an employee is working in, there’s a clear alignment to the larger vision. 

But goals are only half the picture. To develop a comprehensive plan, you need to also consider your objectives. 

What is an objective? 

Goals are obsolete without objectives. If your goal is your compass guiding you in the right direction, your objectives are your map, providing specific steps to get you there. 

The purpose of objectives isn’t to outline where you want to be, it’s the how. To be effective in helping you reach your goals, your objectives need to be tangible, specific and measurable achievements. Formulating your objectives should be a part of your goal-setting process

Tips for formulating objectives 

A major part of distinguishing between goals and objectives is knowing how to format your objectives correctly. When done poorly, it can get confusing. Well-formulated objectives are key to supporting your goals.  Here are some best practices for developing objectives that help ensure you reach your goals. 

Make them SMART

A commonly used framework for formatting objectives is the SMART goals framework. Despite the name, it’s actually used for setting effective objectives. SMART is an acronym that stands for: 

  • Specific: Make sure your objectives are specific. 
  • Measurable: How do you know if you’re successful? It should be clear through metrics.
  • Attainable: Objectives should be challenging, but possible. If they’re not possible with your resources and time, then they become more demotivating than anything else. 
  • Relevant: Are your objectives relevant to your goals?
  • Timebound: Create a timeline for your objectives so that you’re held accountable with a due date. 

Outline key results 

While your objectives are more specific than your goals, don’t be afraid to dive even deeper. 

OKR is a commonly-used objective-setting framework that stands for objectives and key results. Using this framework, your objective is supported by key results and milestones to help you measure your success. 

Here’s an example of what an OKR for a sales manager might look like:

Objective: Generate $50,000 in revenue from upsells this quarter

  • Key result: 100% of client book is aware of all of our products and services by the end of the quarter
  • Key result: Send a monthly email to 100% of client book to check in on how things are going
  • Key result: Connect with 15 customers to ensure their experience is going well and uncover upsell opportunities 

sales manager okr template

Document objectives with your goals

Lastly, your objectives shouldn’t be created in a silo from your goals. The two go hand-in-hand, so don’t store them in separate documents. 

You should be able to access your objectives in the same place that you access your goals, and it should be crystal clear which objectives ladder up to which goals. This will help you stay hyper-aligned on what you’re trying to achieve. Plus, it’ll allow you to easily keep track of what’s working and what’s not. 

How to connect your goals to your objectives 

Okay so you know how to develop goals, you know how to develop objectives, and you know that they’re intrinsic to one another. But how do you develop goals and objectives that work together in harmony? Here are some tips to help you develop goals and objectives that line up with one another.

Run a retro meeting

When you start your goal-setting process for the upcoming quarter or year, it’s important to first look back on what worked and what didn’t work for your last work period. This will help you uncover important insights to inform how to best move forward. 

For example, if the objectives you set last quarter didn’t ultimately help you reach your goals, don’t continue on that same page. Assess why they didn’t work and correct the problems for the next quarter. Don’t forget to use a retro meeting agenda to organize your discussion.

Set your goals first, then your objectives

Your goals will help guide your objectives, so it’s important to make sure you’ve identified your goals first. From there, you’ll have the foundation needed to develop objectives that move you in the right direction. 

Don’t forget to brainstorm

It’s not always obvious what objectives will help you reach your goals. Work with your team to brainstorm ideas for which objectives to focus on to help you reach your goals. Not only will this help nail down the best ideas, but it will also encourage buy-in from your team. When they’re involved in the goal-setting process, they’ll feel more ownership over achieving results. 

Write them down and make them accessible to your team

Don’t house your goals and objectives in your head. Write them down in an accessible place that your whole team can access. When people see the goals and objectives written down together, they can better understand how one contributes to the other. 

Plus, writing down your goals and objectives is an important part of successful goal-setting. In fact, people are 42% more likely to achieve goals if they write them down.

Never stop talking about them

If you don’t feel like you’re talking about your goals and objectives too much, you’re not talking about them enough. People forget most of the new information they learn within one week’s time. It’s human nature, according to the forgetting curve. To keep your goals top-of-mind, it’s vital that you repeat them over and over again. 

A great time to remind everyone of goals is in your meetings. Discuss company goals at every town hall or all-hands meeting. Review team goals at every team meeting. And, talk about individual goals at each one-on-one. When your goals and objectives are seared into everyone’s memory, it’s easier to continuously make sure everything’s moving in unison. 

Goal-setting templates 

Goals should always be personalized to your specific organization, team and role. But it can be hard to start when you’re staring at a blank page. 

Here’s a general template to get you off on the right foot: 

  • Goal: State your goal
  • Explanation: Under your goal, provide some context. Write a brief explanation of what the goal means and why it’s important
  • Objectives: List specific, measurable objectives that will help you achieve your goal

Here are some specific examples of the template in practice, though it can be applied to any job title you have in mind.  

HR Manager goal template

Goal: Update our compensation and benefits program 

Explanation: We want to continue to offer competitive salaries and benefits packages to our team. Let’s gain a deeper understanding of the current market to ensure we’re staying competitive and compensating our team fairly. 

Objectives: 

  • Benchmark current compensation and benefits across the industry
  • Create a cross-functional team to identify and adopt top benefit programs for team
  • Establish and share transparent compensation brands 
  • Roll out compensation equity adjustments

HR manager goal template

Customer Support Specialist goal template

Goal: Improve our customer knowledge base

Explanation: Let’s ensure that our knowledge base/help center provides customers with everything they need to know about [company name]. From documentation to videos, let’s make sure we’re able to answer frequently asked questions by our customers within our help center. 

Objectives: 

  • Review and update four articles in our help centre article to address product changes
  • Create a help document every time three customers ask a similar question this quarter
  • Create 10 new help documents based on gaps identified
  • Work with product to create help documentation for new features before they’re released  

customer support specialist goal template

Marketing Director goal template 

Goal: Grow marketing conversions

Explanation: Work with the team to run experiments that will improve our overall website conversions.

Objectives: 

  • Set specific goals for the marketing, growth and community-building teams focused on traffic and conversion increases
  • Grow website visitors by 7% every month
  • Increase homepage conversion rate from 7% to 12% by the end of this quarter
  • Increase traffic to our top 5 conversion pages by 30% by the end of the quarter

marketing director goal template

Tip: If you’re looking for more goal templates personalized for your role, check out Hypercontext’s library of over 180 goal and OKR examples to help you get started!

Conclusion 

Your goals define where you want to go and your objectives define how you’re going to get there. When answering the questions “what are your goals?” vs. “what are your objectives?” the answers shouldn’t be the same. But they should be deeply connected. 

No matter what types of goals you’re creating (company, team, or individual), they should be accompanied by specific, measurable objectives to set a strong foundation for how you plan to move forward. Goals and objectives are the ultimate partners working together to keep your team aligned, engaged, and on track. 

_learn-value-prop@2x
Ready to hit your goals?

Manage your meetings in a way that helps you and your team achieve their goals every quarter. Meeting management software can help you get there faster.

_learn-value-prop@2x
Ready to hit your goals?

Manage your meetings in a way that helps you and your team achieve their goals every quarter. Meeting management software can help you get there faster.

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