Goals vs Objectives: Understanding the Difference

Understanding the difference between goals and objectives is key to achieving your ambitions as quickly as possible. Here's what

May 23, 2022
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Goals vs objectives: Understanding the difference

You need to know the difference between goals and objectives if you want to achieve your ambitions as effectively as possible. Once you do, you’ll be able to combine them to set a clear vision for your company, motivate your team, and take your business to the next level. 

Read on for the project manager’s guide to the difference between goals and objectives so you can start using them effectively in your business today.

What is the difference between goals and objectives?

A goal is a desired outcome. It’s big picture, long-term, and difficult to measure – a North Star that’s guiding your strategy.

An objective is a step along the journey of your strategy. It’s specific, short- or medium-term, and quantifiable – a measurable milestone along a journey that’s been carefully mapped out to get you exactly where you want to be.

What are some examples of goals and objectives?

Whether or not they’ve been given these exact labels, every organization has both goals and objectives. Here’s a closer at how they work together through some examples:

If your goal is to reduce staff turnover, one of your objectives might be to start running a monthly career development survey to understand how you can help your teammates achieve their professional goals.

If your goal is to expand into international territories, one of your objectives might be to run a digital advertising campaign targeting European customers.

If your goal is to reduce operational costs, one of your objectives might be to review the software your team uses and get rid of any unnecessary subscriptions.

As you can see, an objective is always a tangible step you need to hit in order to achieve a big-picture goal.

What comes first: goals or objectives?

Neither goals or objectives are of much use on their own.

Goals rarely happen unless they’re broken into objectives. Setting your sights on something like “doubling sales” is going to be hard – after all, if it was easy you wouldn’t need to set it as a goal in the first place. You’re not going to get there without a concrete and considered plan.

Setting objectives without clear goals in place, on the other hand, is a surefire way to go nowhere fast. Without goals in place, your objectives are likely to frequently change and often be focused around vanity metrics. 

For example, without a clear goal of who you’re trying to reach with your sales and marketing efforts, your team might focus its energy on building your social media following… when the decision makers you need to reach are at trade shows, not scrolling through Twitter.

The most effective organizations set goals first, then quickly follow those up with objectives. Then they’ll have an end point in mind and the specific steps they need to take to get there laid out.

What are the three main types of goals?

Your organization is a lot more likely to achieve its ambitions if you set the right kind of goals. Here’s a quick overview of the three types of goals and the situations each one is best suited to:

Time-bound goals

A time-bound goal is an outcome that needs to be achieved by a specific deadline. Giving your team a clear deadline to aim for is one of the most effective ways of getting the most from them. You’re a lot more likely to achieve the goal to “double users by the end of the year” than just to “double users”. 

And don’t forget Parkinson's law: the old adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". Tying a goal to a deadline is a tried-and-tested way of overcoming this aspect of human nature and getting more done in less time. 

But beware: while time-bound goals can be incredibly effective for the things you have complete control over, they don’t work nearly as well for goals that involve lots of moving parts. For example, aiming to make sure every one of your employees has completed the relevant health and safety training they need to perform their role safely by the end of the year is a realistic and effective time-bound goal. Setting your sights on becoming the market leader in your industry by the end of the year isn’t, as your organization can’t control a lot of the things that would need to happen for you to achieve that goal.

Outcome-oriented goals

An outcome-oriented goal is achieved when an end result is achieved. When it happens doesn’t matter – just that it does.

Outcome-oriented goals work best for big picture goals, such as “become the market leader in our niche” or “become the employer of choice in our industry”. There are so many variables that are out of control in a goal like this that it’s unrealistic to think that you can set a deadline on achieving it. For example, if your biggest competitor gets acquired by a huge conglomerate and suddenly gets a huge cash injection, your goal to “become the market leader in our niche by the end of the year” suddenly isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

When you set an outcome-oriented goal, you’re aware that it might get pushed back or brought forward based on factors that are often out of your control, so you don’t pretend that you can accurately predict when you’re going to achieve it.

It’s worth noting that a lot of time-oriented goals are actually outcome-oriented goals with an arbitrary deadline attached to them. Unless you have full control over when the goal will be achieved, you’ll get the best results if you recognize that it’s an outcome-oriented goal from the off.

Process-oriented goals

Process-oriented goals are focused on what are known as “lead measures” – the things you do today that are going to lead to success in the metrics that matter down the line (your “lag measures”). The amount of outbound calls your sales team makes every day is a lead measure, while the number of sales they make each quarter is a lag measure.

Process-oriented goals often get to the root of an issue rather than curing a symptom. For example, an organization’s poor customer support might come up in the majority of its negative reviews – with a lot of customers having a bone to pick about how long it takes to get a response from their team. 

The most effective way to solve a problem like this is to set a process-oriented goal – perhaps to answer all customer support queries within fifteen minutes.

Keep in mind that process-oriented goals are best suited to ongoing tasks. Once they’re hit, you haven’t “achieved” them, and you still need to put time and effort into maintaining them.

What are the three main types of objectives?

Once you’ve set the right type of goal for what you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to pick the right kind of objectives to support them. There are three main types of objectives:

Strategic objectives

Strategic objectives are top-level milestones that define the vision of a project. They’re directly tied to your top-level business goals and are designed to give your team a clear picture of what they’re working towards. 

For example, “double monthly users” might be a strategic objective based on the broader goal of “become the market leader in our niche”.

Tactical objectives

Tactical objectives are based around hitting milestones along the way to achieving your strategic objectives.

There are a lot of steps to go through before you achieve a goal like “double monthly users”, and tactical objectives are what will get you from one to the next. Tactical objectives include things like “hire five new marketing executives”, “execute an SEO-driven content marketing strategy”, “invest $10,000 a month in digital advertising”.

Operational objectives

Operational objectives are set at the individual and process level.

For example, each sales executive in your organization might be given the operational objective of making 20 sales calls a day. If they achieve this, you can safely say you’ll be on track to double monthly users and ultimately become the market leader in your niche.

How to connect your goals and objectives

Organizations that effectively connect their goals and objectives tend to thrive. To do that in practice, your teammates need to be able to connect their responsibilities to short- and medium-term objectives and those objectives to long-term goals.

And Assembly can help with this.

Want to encourage your employees to think about whether the tasks on their to-do list are pushing them closer towards the objectives they’re responsible for hitting? Add a custom question focused on it to your Daily Agendas

The Task Manager and Notebook also make it easy for employees to get clear on which objectives are on their plate and when they need to be achieved. And the Daily Standup Flow helps managers keep their teams on track with achieving the personal objectives that are essential steps to the organization’s overall goals.

The most effective organizations set ambitious but achievable goals, break those goals down into clear objectives, and then clearly communicate those goals and objectives to every one of their employees. Get this right within your organization to set foundations for future success. Schedule a demo with Assembly to learn more.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

Yes, at Assembly, security is a top priority. Each quarter, we have ongoing security work that is everyone’s responsibility. While we maintain a strong security posture, it was important for us to prove to our customers that we do everything we claim to do. This led us to pursue a SOC 2 Type II report that would provide evidence of our compliance with industry gold-standard security practice.

What's the ROI for employee recognition?

There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

Does Assembly offer longer-term contracts?

Yes, we will offer contracts for companies with longer-term agreements to help larger customers have more certainty around future costs.

The minimum agreement term is a 12-month subscription.

Does Assembly offer onboarding support?

We do and for FREE! Any new customer needing further support to get started with Assembly to ensure you're set up for success can request custom onboarding support. Improving your employee experience is about much more than just using our amazing software; it’s about transforming your business to create a workplace that people love. That’s much easier to do with the personal support and advice from our passionate people experts.

Is there a free version of Assembly?

Yes. We offer a completely free plan for up to 50 team members. This plan is intended for teams or organizations that are looking to get started with an employee engagement tool. Keep in mind, this plan is limited in features.

All customers can open an Assembly account for free and get started without a credit card. Then you can change plans as necessary.

How much do rewards cost?

At the time of redemption (when your employees exchange their points for a paid reward) you'll pay face value. If a reward is a $10 Amazon gift card, your cost will be $10. All paid rewards are billed for on a monthly basis.

The good news is that you don't have to pay for rewards upfront because we only charge you when points are redeemed, not when they're earned.

Does Assembly offer discounts?

We offer discounts or educational or charitable organizations. In order to secure a discount, you'll first need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

For all other organizations, we are willing to consider longer-term agreements in exchange for discounts. To set up annual plans or longer, you will need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

How do I cancel my plan if needed?

If you're on a month to month plan, you can go here and cancel anytime. If you're having concerns or need help setting up your account for success, you can always book a demo with a customer support specialist.

If you're on a longer-term custom plan, you'll need to reach out to your customer support specialist to cancel your account or email us at support@joinassembly.com.

What customizations are available?

Great question! You can customize your core values to match your organization's to boost and track alignment. You can change your currency from the 🏆 emoji (our default) to any emoji of your choice. You can swap our logo for your own. You can also set up company culture rewards such as, "Lunch with the CEO," "Buy a book on us," and so much more!

Who can give or receive recognition?

While we recommend a peer to peer set up where anyone in your organization can give or receive recognition, you can set up Assembly however you want. If you need to limit the people who can give or receive recognition, that's perfectly fine and can be done from your Admin, here.

What integrations are available?

Assembly connects to the tools your employees use every day to offer an easy, seamless experience with minimal change management.  

Assembly has integrations with HCM/HRIS systems like ADP, Google, Office 365, and Slack. We also integrate with communication tools like Slack and Teams so you and your employees can access Assembly wherever they work now.

What's your average adoption rate?

That depends on the company's permissions set up. That said, over 90% of the employees on Assembly's platform are recognized on a monthly basis. That means nearly every employee across all of our customers are receiving regular recognition from their peers, managers, or leadership. We're extremely proud of this.

Must rewards be set up to use Assembly?

They are not required. You can use Assembly without having rewards set up. However, we don't recommend it if you intend to have a high adoption and usage rate. You can always keep the costs down by offering internal culture rewards that are fulfilled by you internally.

Are points required to use Assembly?

No, you can remove allowances from anyone or everyone. It's up to you but we do recommend using points whether they're worth a real dollar value or not. Companies that use points have a much higher engagement rate even if those points don't exchange for real dollars.

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