Does it really matter what the definition of a Goal or an Objective is when you are setting out your company Strategy? I was recently engaged in a heated discussion that very quickly degenerated into what the definitions actually were and missed the point entirely about the need to have clear definitions in the first place. The old adage is true, ask a 100 people to define what an objective is and you will get 100 answers! The importance is not in the definition itself, the importance is in agreeing and communicating the definition. Having said that, it is good to have a starting place, you could do a lot worse than take the definition supplied by these very clever people at diffen (the website that compares any two things) their definition is as follows:
Both terms imply the target that one’s efforts is desired to accomplish. Goals are generically for an achievement or accomplishment for which certain efforts are put. Objectives are specific targets within the general goal. Objectives are time-related to achieve a certain task.
A goal is defined as
- The purpose toward which an endeavour is directed. The result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end
- has a similar definition but is supposed to be a clear and measurable target.
Attributes of goals vs. objectives
Differences in scope
Goals are broader than objectives in the sense that goals are general intentions and are not specific enough to be measured. Objectives are narrow and are set for certain tasks in particular.
Goals are general while objectives are specific. Goals are just general intentions towards the attainment of something while objectives are precise actions for accomplishment of a specific task.
Goals may be intangible while objectives ought to be tangible. Goals may be directed at achieving non-measurable things while objectives may be targeted at getting measurable things or tasks.
Differences in time frame
Both have a certain time frame. Goals usually have a longer time-frame than objectives. Objectives are usually precise targets set for a short term. Goals may be set for a longer term but many objectives may be set within that goal.
Measuring goals and objectives
Goals may or may not be measured but in most cases objectives are measurable.
So here we have a clear definition. Do we all agree with it. No. Is that a problem, well for some people yes, but that is where good leadership and management comes into play. The absolute key is to ensure that the definition is published and communicated to all stakeholders. Too often we get bogged down in definitions and take far too long getting to the productive activity of setting measures against our goals/objectives and trying to improve things.