Goal vs. Objective

The words Goal and Objective are often confused with each other. They both describe things that a person may want to achieve or attain but in relative terms may mean different things. Both are desired outcomes of work done by a person but what sets them apart is the time frame, attributes they're set for and the effect they inflict.

Comparison chart

Goal

Objective

Meaning The purpose toward which an endeavor is directed. Something that one's efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish; purpose; target.
Example I want to achieve success in the field of genetic research and do what no one has ever done. I want to complete this thesis on genetic research by the end of this month.
Action Generic action, or better still, an outcome towards which we strive. Specific action - the objective supports attainment of the associated goal.
Measure Goals may not be strictly measurable or tangible. Must be measurable and tangible.
Time frame Longer term Mid to short term

Contents: Goal vs Objective

Definitions

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

  1. The purpose toward which an endeavor is directed.
  2. The result or achievement toward which effort is directed or aimed.

An objective 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.

Specificity

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.

Tangibility

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.

Examples

"I want to achieve success in the field of genetic research and do what no one has ever done." This is a goal. "I want to complete the thesis on genetic research within this month." This is an objective.

Video explaining the differences

References

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Comments: Goal vs Objective

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Anonymous comments (14)

June 5, 2012, 3:30am

Smart goal = Objective
Unclear objective = Goal

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January 28, 2014, 4:29am

By attaining the short term objectives one can acheive the long term goal

— 27.✗.✗.1
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October 30, 2013, 5:18am

Doesn't matter which you call a goal and which the objective, as long as you're consistent in your own use. There's disagreement out there on which is which, as the dialog here shows. The important thing is to have a long term plan and a series of short term markers on the way there.

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October 8, 2013, 4:15am

So does a hockey player have the goal of winning the game by scoring objectives?

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March 31, 2014, 6:23pm

Using the word "purpose" alone in the Meaning of both Goal and Objective is confusing. Using the word "one's" in the Meaning of Objective could imply that Objectives are for individuals only. I suggest, e.g. for Goal: The end purpose toward which an endeavor is directed. For Objective: A thing that efforts or actions will accomplish; immediate purpose, attainable target.

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November 19, 2010, 12:24am

The information presented is just fine (not backwards). The whole SMART mnemonic doesn't seem intended to differentiate between Goals and objectives. It conflates the two to result in actionable management strategies. I.e., it doesn't seem to address the bigger picture perspectives.

So, use the definitions above with confidence. They are the commonly used ones in my experience with strategic planning activities.

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July 29, 2010, 11:21am

agree with the first comment! the right definition is exactly the opposite. Goals are broad but objectives are specific.

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July 21, 2010, 4:13pm

>> Absolutely backwards! Goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound).

You say "Absolutely backwards" but then go on to confirm the original post on Differences between Goals and Objectives. I say you're both absolutely backwards. Goals are the broad, general, and more abstract, while Objectives are narrow, precise, and more concrete. Objectives are measurable, and based on completion in a certain amount of time to meet and overall related Goal. So Objectives are SMART, not Goals.

— 140.✗.✗.86
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January 27, 2009, 6:20am

100%, good and effectve

— 202.✗.✗.132
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May 5, 2014, 7:51am

Very impressive thank you

— 41.✗.✗.29
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November 27, 2013, 11:17pm

so,can goals be a long term plan and objective is a short term plan?

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October 20, 2012, 4:54pm

You achieve your Goal by utilizing SMART objectives to get there.

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May 5, 2014, 5:20pm

does it mean dat when the objectives are achieved then even goals

— 212.✗.✗.190
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June 21, 2010, 2:15am

Absolutely backwards! Goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound). The goals are the "scoreboard" by which the objective/s are measured - just like crossing the goal line earns you points (measurable). The objective is to win the game, the goals might be "score, 100 pts (+10pts vs. competition) by the end of the fourt quarter"....taking this further - Strategies underpin the objectives, e.g. strategies deliver the objectives and tactics underpin the strategies....(goals it off to the side as the measures by which the strategies or tactics can be measured and viewed against). Goals are the scoreboard and O-G-S-T delivers the "bizness" from the top down...a very clear line of sight....

— 64.✗.✗.93
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