What I have to say below on the topic of Objectives and Goals (and the differences between the two) was sparked by a Linked In post on a Consulting Blog. What follows is my response to the question posed on the blog:
OBJECTIVES AND GOALS
To me these words have very specific, practical definitions for my own Work, though they might very well be used interchangeably by clients or others. By my own definitions, which are pragmatic and geared towards utility, an Objective is a wide-scale enterprise or endeavor, strategic in nature, and therefore separate and distinct from a Goal which is carefully and tightly targeted and tactical in nature.
Let me use a warfare analogy. An objective might be to “take a town,” (I am using a narrow strategic objective, whereas it could just as easily be that my objective is wide-scale, to “defeat an enemy”) but my goals in doing so might be as follows: cut off enemy resupply routes, attrit enemy forces, reduce the number of enemy fortified hard-points, and constrict enemy fuel and power resources. Each Goal then is a clear and very specific and tactical aim which when taken all together, and if each is successfully executed then I achieve my overall Objective (which is strategic in nature.
I could use the very same type of analogy and apply it to a business or investment enterprise. Suppose I or my client wanted to begin a new start-up. The Objective would be to obtain sufficient Capital and investment to properly fund operations thereby increasing the odds of a successful launch and the building of a profitable enterprise.
My specific goals therefore in pursuing this strategic Objective would be as follows; construct a viable business plan with acceptable financial projections, create a pitch capable of exciting investors, secure angel or venture capital sources to fund the project, develop a strong operational team to run the day to day business operations of the Start-Up, etc.
Each goal to me therefore has a very specific and tight aim which I can easily measure and that contains a very specific time-frame for completion. Complete all of the Goals successfully, or most of them successfully, and you eventually reach your Objective which is also successfully concluded and obtained.
Therefore to me Objectives are always strategic and large-scale (and because of this somewhat flexible in nature), whereas Goals are always specific and targeted and tightly measured.
Objectives to me are always Objective (in nature, as is implied by the denotation of the word) and general but state the desired end-point aim, whereas Goals are always tactical, pragmatic, (and to some degree subjective in nature) and consist of the necessary sub-components used to achieve the overall Objective.
The point to me is a pragmatic and practical one, to differentiate between the overall strategic Objective and the specific and tactical Goals necessary to obtain that Objective.
In that way you neither confuse your Goals and how they operate, nor do you lose sight of your True Objective(s).