What is the difference between a goal and an objective?

What is the difference between a goal and an objective?

“Nothing!” I hear you reply, and you’d be right. Referring to the dictionary, the definition of ‘objective’ includes the word ‘a goal’, which pretty well wraps it up and hence concludes the shortest blog of the year. Or does it?

Suppose we discern a difference between the two which is useful, and helps us align goals and objectives throughout the organisation. How would that work? First let’s redefine goals and objectives:

GoalA broad statement toward which the organisation’s effort is directed

Objective: A milestone to be accomplished to reach your goal

So, a goal describes a purpose and the expected effects. It needs to be specific enough to give direction. By this definition, goals are only found at the very top of the organisation. They link to the vision and/or mission of the organisation and give a short to medium term direction. Indeed, they can be seen as a stepping stone towards the vision or mission. Goals must still be measurable and serve as a foundation for objectives.

Objectives are the building blocks that describe how the goal will be achieved. They apply to the lower levels of the organisation. Achievement of correctly aligned objectives will allow the organisation to reach its goal. The objectives should be as specific as they need to be for the level of the organisation they apply to, for example: 

  1. Senior Manager – Goal
    Make the workplace safer and accident free. 
  2. Manager – Objective
    Implement behavioural safety programme in all areas in 2019.
  3. Team Leader – Objective
    Perform one safety walkabout per week with a member of you team. Document and ensure correction of 80% of non-conformities within the year.
  4. Front Line Team – Objective
    Identify at least one safety improvement each month. Implement 10 improvements over the year.

The example above illustrates how, as the objectives or goal become more general higher up the organisation, their measures become less explicit. For the Senior Manager, the goal may be measured by a number of different metrics; the number of accidents, or near misses or both. For the Manager too, there is room to direct the results of the objective by the selection of an appropriate measure. 

By using the terms “goal” and “objective” in this way you can ensure that all activities are aligned to the overall direction of the company and give clarity to employees at every level how their individual actions link to the vision of the organisation thus giving them purpose and meaning and improving their engagement. 

If you need help in goal and objective setting or any other area of continuous improvement, please contact us.

Adam Jones – CDI London