Goals vs Objectives

Talk to a group of founders and ask them to define the difference between goals and objectives and you will be presented with multiple versions and understanding of these terms. These are two very popular terms and perhaps one of the most misused and confused ones in business conversations.

The distinctions between the two are subtle and it often seems like the two phrases are interchangeable.

It’s critical that everybody is on the same page when developing your startup, and one of the ways to do this is by clearly communicating your goals and objectives to all stakeholders in a project and your entire startup.

The best way to explain these terms is probably by giving Goals vs Objectives examples:

Goal: “We want to become the leader in our industry and capture a 50% market share in two years”.

Goal: “We need to grow our brand internationally”.

Goal: “Grow the company to 100M in revenue business in five years”.

As you can see, a goal is a very broad definition of what we want to achieve. It can be seen as the over-arching long-term target for your startup.

The goals can be and should be defined for each department and they can be business development goals, marketing goals, sales goals, software development goals, etc.

It is also necessary to start by defining overall company goals, so the departments’ goals are aligned. In fact, departments should create their goals only after the company goals have been defined.

The real challenge lies in aligning the founder’s vision and purpose with the startup’s goals. This may sound strange, but many times the founder’s vision and desire may be different from what the business needs dictate.

Goals are required to define the startup’s overall direction, so all contributors in that company are clear about why things are created and understand the reasons behind each project.

As we see, goals are very broad and non-actionable by nature. To work towards achieving the goals, we need to define our objectives.

An objective is a specific, measurable activity needed to be taken to work towards a broader goal. Typically, this is where the S.M.A.R.T. criteria will be used to define, measure, and execute.

To follow up on our Goals example, for the “50% market share capturing” goal, an idea for an objective may be:

Objective: “Acquire Competitor 1 and Competitor 2 to consolidate their market shares and increase their revenue potentials by better management” or

Objective: “Introduce new products every N months in market segment 1 and market segment 2 to drive the competition out of these segments” or

Objective: “Disrupt the exciting industry adopted the transaction-based business model and offer subscription-based services to lover the barrier for customers to use our product”.

These are just examples and are used to illustrate that the objectives need to be action-oriented. Objectives can be broken down further to become even more specific, which in term will make them easier to understand, act on them, and measure the achievements.

Strategy

Both Goals and Objective define the What. You still need to define the How.

A strategy defines how your team and employee will accomplish the objective.

One interesting characteristic of the strategy is that it can change during the execution. In fact, if your startup follows The Lean Startup methodology, it is expected for the strategy to change.

A strategy is nothing else but a hypothesis about how to fulfill the objective. You then take that hypothesis, run it to collect data, analyze the data to verify the hypothesis, and iterate again, based on the results.

If, for example, your goal is to double your revenue, your objective may be to increase four times your website traffic, then your strategy needs to define your actions towards SEO improvements, website re-design and acquiring paid traffic. An additional strategy may focus on expanding your audience by making your website multi-lingual and/or tap into international markets.

Individual Goals and Objectives

The thing is that even with well-defined Goals and Objectives and a great strategy in place, your startup will go nowhere if your employees don’t have Goals and Objectives defined on a personal level.

Your employees need to have a clear definition of their Goals, then defined objectives and go further down to define activities they need to take to achieve the goals.

Activities are going to be framed by the Strategy. Goals and Objectives will be derivatives from the company’s defined Goals and Objectives.

I have worked with my team to even brake activities into tasks that are measurable by the department defined needs.

As you can see, company-level Goals and Objectives define all employees’ Goals and Objectives. Your company strategy describes how to make the objectives a reality, and the activities your team needs to work on are actually defined by the strategy.

The importance of understanding Goals vs Objectives

Creating clear goals helps all stakeholders understand where your startup is going and why. It helps the founders align vision and meaning with the startup business needs.

Objectives are the actions needed to realize the goals.

Don’t use these two terms interchangeably and work with your team to make sure they understand the meaning and importance of each of these terms.

Develop your strategy to execute on your objectives and make sure objectives are S.M.A.R.T. This will help you measure your progress and bring clarity to your startup’s journey.

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