Do you know the difference between a goal and an objective?

As a consultant, I have the fortunate opportunity, or misfortune depending on your perspective, to review many organizations’ goals, objectives, and supporting initiatives. Despite the size of the organization, it’s obvious that most organizations large and small, public or private don’t understand the difference between a goal and an objective.

For some reason, unknown to me, this drives me crazy. I expect most business people, especially senior level executives to use the terms goal and objective correctly. Perhaps it’s my deeply held belief that in order for organizations to achieve success they have to be able to effectively communicate their goals and objectives and that these goals and objectives will be cascaded down through the organization. Silly me.

A goal is a brief, clear statement of an outcome to be reached within a timeframe such as 3-5 years. A goal is a broad, general, tangible, and descriptive statement. It does not say how to do something, but rather what the results will look like. It is measurable both in terms of quality and quantity. It is time based. It is achievable. It is a stretch from where we are now. Above all, it is singular.

Goals can be described or defined as “Outcome statements that define what an organization is trying to accomplish both programmatically and organizationally.”

As an illustration, some common business goals are, grow profitability, maximize net income, improve customer loyalty and etc. Notice the brevity of these statements.

In comparison, an objective is a specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound condition that must be attained in order to accomplish a particular goal. Objectives define the actions must be taken within a year to reach the strategic goals. For example, if an organization has a goal to “grow revenues”. An objective to achieve the goal may be “introduce 2 new products by 20XX Q3.” Other examples of common objectives are, increase revenue by x% in 20XX, reduce overhead costs by X% by 20XX, and etc. In contrast to a goal, notice how the objectives are more specific and provide more detail.

A goal is where you want to be and objectives are the steps taken to reach the goal.

As I write this blog, 2008 Q1 has come to end and I bet many of you don’t have any idea of your organization’s goals and objectives. If don’t know them, how do you know if you have been working on the right projects/things?

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