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Goals vs. objectives: how to use both to drive change

June 17, 2024 - 14 min read


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Understanding goals vs. objectives

4 key differences between goals and objectives

3 examples of using goals and objectives

Setting impactful goals vs. objectives

Communicating goals vs. objectives to team members

Why you need both goals and objectives for team success

Guide your team to the finish line

You work with your team day in and day out. Even so, figuring out how to capitalize on their potential and keep everyone on track is a perennial challenge for every manager. 

Understanding the difference between goals vs. objectives is a great place to start. Learn how breaking down large goals into measurable steps makes your team more accountable and strategic. You can use goals and objectives to drive change in your personal life as well as your professional endeavors.

It helps to think of your goals and objectives as a big- and small-picture relationship. Imagine a football field where each yard marker represents your objectives. These markers offer a measurable progression to your goal, represented by the end zone.

What are goals?

A goal is a desired outcome that’s broad but achievable. Goals can have short-term or long-term time frames. Goals typically focus on a company’s productive, financial, or operational health. This might include implementing a new operating system, increasing revenue, or decreasing turnover.

No matter the goal you set, use the SMART method. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals help create clear and strategic plans.

Below are three common types of goals:

  • Time-bound goals: These goals have a time limit, which is useful for setting timely actions. Time goals may have specific objectives and timelines to complement them. 
  • Outcome-oriented goals: These are transformative goals. They guide smaller, measurable steps toward results. Outcome goals stimulate major changes in performance or the business plan. 
  • Process-oriented goals: These are goals to change processes, systems, and workflows. Rather than focusing on a specific outcome, process goals focus on the methods teams use to complete tasks.

What are objectives?

If your goals are the final destination, objectives are your roadmap. An objective is a measurable action with a set target. They’re generally time-bound, and you create them to break down large goals into small, attainable steps. 

Effective objectives are similar to action plans. They shift your team’s focus from broad outcomes to more manageable steps. Objectives let the team know the actions they must take for goal success. As you check objectives off the to-do list, you motivate your team to focus on the final goal. 

Here are three examples of objective types:

  • Strategic objectives: These actions shape the vision of a long-term goal. They provide team members with structure, vision, and direction.
  • Tactical objectives: These are efforts toward a short-term deliverable with a desired impact. This objective type aligns short-term workflows with long-term milestones. 
  • Operational objectives: These are short-term benchmarks that support a strategy. Operational objectives unite several departments and keep everyone on schedule. 

4 key differences between goals and objectives

To highlight the functions of each, here are four major differences between goals and objectives:

Time frame: You may set both short- and long-term work goals for your team, spanning a year or more. Objectives are shorter. They may be split up by day, week, or month. 

Purpose: You define goals to set your team on a particular course and use objectives to plan steps to reach the desired result.

Scope: Goals are broad achievements, like increasing sales or branding metrics. Objectives are narrow and specific. For instance, an objective to increase the revenue of several products by 15% may serve the goal of increasing overall profit.

Quantity: It’s best to focus on a few achievable goals. For this reason, you’ll typically have only a handful per department. Objectives don’t have a limit. Use as many as needed to break down a goal into actionable steps.

3 examples of using goals and objectives

Goals and objectives go hand in hand to get a company where it wants to go. By defining the right goals, and supporting them with well-aligned objectives, you increase the chances of success. This works for smaller goals or big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs).


Here are three examples of ways to use goals and objectives to achieve business results:

Example 1: The time-bound goal

Many leaders align goal-setting with the calendar. For instance, the executive team may want to boost company revenue by a certain percentage. The team could set a goal of increasing revenue by an achievable amount in a set time period, along with objectives for reaching it. 

Goal: Increase company revenue by 20% within the next fiscal year.

Objectives to support a time-bound goal:

  • Launch a new product line to increase sales
  • Implement a customer loyalty program to encourage repeat business
  • Expand into new geographical markets with growth potential
  • Increase marketing efforts on digital platforms to reach a broader audience
  • Optimize the pricing strategy using competitor pricing data

Example 2: The outcome-based goal

Analyzing performance helps companies identify areas to improve. You may create an outcome goal to improve performance in a specific area. For instance, a company with lagging customer satisfaction key performance indicators (KPIs) might set an outcome goal to boost those numbers. 

Goal: Achieve a 90% or higher customer satisfaction rating this quarter. 

Objectives to support an outcome-based goal:

  • Implement a customer feedback system to identify areas for improvement
  • Enhance employee development and training to ensure high-quality interactions
  • Create a flexible return-and-exchange policy to improve customer perception
  • Update offerings based on customer preferences and feedback

Example 3: The process-oriented goal

Goal: Reduce manual work for the accounting department.

Objectives to support a process-oriented goal:

  • Automate accounting processes using software tools to minimize manual data entry
  • Develop and train staff on forecasting tools for quicker and more accurate planning
  • Build a centralized document management system to reduce research time
  • Introduce regular team meetings to identify improvements

Setting impactful goals vs. objectives

Carefully setting goals and objectives sets you up to succeed. Your team needs to feel their work contributes to the mission. Use these practices to ensure your goals and objectives make an impact on your team and business success.

How to set impactful goals

Define clear, measurable objectives: Goals should follow the SMART goals framework. This clarity helps in tracking progress and motivating the team toward achieving these targets. These types of goals also keep you accountable.

Involve the team in goal-setting: Your team members have insights to share. Build the goal-setting process to encourage ownership and collaboration. When you contribute to planning, you’re more likely to invest in realizing those plans.

Set realistic timelines: Make sure your deadlines are challenging without demotivating the team. Unrealistic timelines can lead to burnout and undermine your objective. An American Psychological Association (APA) study revealed that burned-out employees are three times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.

Incorporate flexibility: Adaptability is an important aspect of innovation. Leave room to pivot or adjust as new information becomes available or trends change. Find ways to help teams hone their adaptability skills.

How to set impactful objectives

Understand the goal: Objectives must closely align with goals to get results. Take time to understand what parts of the business a goal supports. From there, you’ll have better insight into the activities that will get you there.

Prioritize objectives: Not all goals can be pursued at once. Decide which objectives are most critical to your success and what objectives enable others. Allocate time and resources to tackle critical needs first.

Establish relevant metrics: Monitor objectives to ensure business assumptions are correct. Regular check-ins allow adjustments and help you understand the outcome of activities.

Communicating goals vs. objectives to team members

Measuring your progress toward overall workplace goals is simple if you have defined metric-based objectives. Here are three important components for measuring your team’s progress:

Identify relevant KPIs: Choose smart KPIs to analyze your ultimate goals. If your goal is to increase revenue, look at relevant performance metrics. This might include sales conversion rate, customer acquisition cost, and average profit margin. The more specific your data, the easier it will be to identify opportunities and weaknesses in your strategy. 

Measure past performance: Understanding past successes and challenges helps you set attainable objectives. For instance, if your team takes 15 days to build a new client proposal, you can set reasonable goals for delivery. Measuring performance management helps ensure the successful completion of milestones.

Develop a structure: A clear strategy with a step-by-step process helps you keep tasks on track. It allows the team to understand how progress should evolve. This might include a detailed work plan, daily individual objectives, and an organizational structure to support the work.

Why you need both goals and objectives for team success

Goals and objectives are two halves of team success. These two tools work together to guide team vision and progress. 

  • Goals give a team direction and a target to strive toward. They organize teams around concrete ideals and can even help define an individual team member’s career development.
  • Objectives break down the mission into digestible steps. Well-defined objectives make it easier for teams to maintain focus and measure their progress.

Objectives and goals also provide transparency and tangible evidence of progress. With a structure in place, teams can navigate challenges, improve organizational performance, and build cohesion along the way.

Guide your team to the finish line

Every team is unique and requires different strategies to function as a unit working toward larger professional goals. There isn’t a magic key to keeping everyone performing well. However, balancing goals vs. objectives can help you create initiatives that harness your team’s potential. 

Analyze your current team goals and break them down into smaller daily, weekly, and monthly objectives. This structure and focus will give your team a sense of purpose. Accomplishing each milestone will offer moments to celebrate and ways to connect as a team.

Even leaders need goals and objectives to stay motivated. If you want help to chart a course for you and your team, find a BetterUp Coach and get started today. 

Transform your life

Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

Transform your life

Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

Published June 17, 2024

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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