What’s the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

You are currently viewing What’s the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

Have you ever heard someone use the terms goals and objectives and wondered why they’d use one over the other? Today we’re going to explore the difference between goals and objectives. And when you might want to use each.

A goal is an outcome that you’re working toward. An objective is “a thing aimed at or sought.” Goals and objectives are closely related synonyms and can be used interchangeably. An objective is a more formal term for a goal that is often used in the workplace or to describe learning goals for a course. 

Let’s get into it a little more with something I like to call word math.

Word Math: Difference Between Goals and Objectives

Word math is a way to help me understand words and phrases better. You can read this article to get the full story on it. 

The quick version is that I treat a phrase like a math problem, swapping in the definitions instead of the words. 

I’ll take something like “goals vs objectives,” get the definition and synonyms of both of those terms, and put those in place of them in the phrase, like this:

Goals: “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.”

Synonyms: aim, objective, object, end, target 

Objectives: “a thing aimed at or sought; a goal.”

Synonyms: aim, intention, purpose, target

Since the two are already synonyms they mean essentially the same thing. Putting the definitions in place of each word in the phrase “goals vs objectives” is just redundant: 

A goal is the object of a person’s ambition or effort, an aim, or desired result; while an objective is a thing aimed at or sought, a goal.

It feels like saying 1=1, which isn’t really helpful. Except that’s only kind of true. People use goals and objectives in different ways, so there is a difference. Let’s look at some examples.

Examples of Goals vs Objectives

I don’t consider it useful to distinguish between goals and objectives. Either will do in most cases. But there are times when using one over the other is more clear.

If I said that my fitness “objective” was to lose 5% body fat in the next 12 weeks, that would seem a little formal. “Goal” is a better word to use there.

Now consider the phrase “the goal of this research is to show whether SMART goals actually work.” It’s a little more clear if you say “the objective of the research” instead.

Let’s look at more examples of how people use each in a sentence, starting with objectives:

  • Our objective for this quarter is to increase website traffic by 20% through SEO.
  • The project team developed objectives to guide their work and ensure they stayed on track.
  • Manager expectations include setting clear objectives for each employee.
  • Our company’s main objective is to expand into international markets within the next five years.
  • The learning objectives for this course are…

Now let’s look at how we can use the term goals in a sentence:

  • My personal goal is to read 50 books by the end of the year.
  • The company’s long-term goal is to become a household name in the industry.
  • We need to set clear goals for this project before we can start planning how to achieve them.
  • His ultimate goal is to become a successful entrepreneur and start a company.
  • I’m halfway to my goal of writing 100 blog posts this year.

Again we see that “objectives” is more common in professional spaces or to refer to learning objectives for a course. It’s a more formal term.

“Goals,” on the other hand, is a slightly more informal term. It’s more common for someone to talk about their personal goals than their personal objectives. However, companies also use the term goals at various times. 

Wrapping Up

Goals and objectives are essentially the same thing. However, you find the term “objectives” more often in formal settings and when describing learning objectives. And the term goals you’ll see more when individuals describe their personal ambitions.

My conclusion is that it’s not helpful to differentiate between these two terms. You’re a lot better off just working hard on your goals. 

And if you’re confused about the difference between goals and plans, that is a useful concept to grasp that can greatly accelerate your ability to grow as a person. Check out this post that I wrote to explain it all.