Written by Ryan Farley

Last updated 13 January 2023 ·

Objectives vs goals: What the difference means when tracking OKRs

How you define the terms of your success determines how quickly you achieve it.

Have you ever used a word or phrase and had a friend or colleague point out that you’re “technically” misusing it? Annoying as it may seem in the moment, it can also be incredibly helpful.

On the one hand, getting too caught up in debates over definitions can be a dangerous distraction from what really matters. On the other hand, accuracy and specificity matter. Especially when mapping out how to get from Point A to Point Z in your personal or professional life.

Long-term planning: Are goals and objectives the same?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, goals and objectives can be perfect synonyms. The Oxford dictionary uses almost the exact same definition with one tiny difference. While a goal is listed as something you hope to achieve, an objective is something you are trying to achieve.

But that’s not the be-all-end-all of their relationship. Definitions of words evolve over time, and it’s common for dictionaries to update their entries in response to cultural and technological changes.

For example, both and Hubspot say that “Goals are the outcomes you intend to achieve, whereas objectives are the specific actions and measurable steps that you need to take to achieve a goal.” That’s a significant departure.

How do these subtleties and nuances affect how you set goals and take advantage of OKR tools? It’s all about refining your approach to realising your vision.

What you are hoping to do vs what you are trying to do

Write your vision at the top of a piece of paper or a blank document - if you haven’t defined one yet, follow these three steps to create a powerful vision statement. Beneath that, split the page into three columns and in each one, write down a desired outcome that needs to happen for your vision to materialise.

Now, take a step back and honestly ask yourself, “Am I actively trying to make these outcomes a reality? Or hoping to stumble across them?” Go ahead and call them goals if you’d like. Just make sure you’re actually working on them.

Next, write down five actionable and measurable steps that align with the item at the top of each column. Adding these steps will not magically transform your goals into objectives. But it will have a miraculous effect on productivity and progress.

Ideally, your finished sheet will be a concise and actionable plan for growth. For example, “To become the most popular manufacturer of high-end furniture in Northwest England [vision], I am currently focusing on trying to release at least 10 new product designs per year [goal/objective] by [key results]:

  1. Hiring three more product designers
  2. Holding one focus group per quarter
  3. Audit current materials sourcing and look for better options
  4. Reduce training and production time for new products by 10%
  5. Begin sales and marketing new products as soon as designs are finalised

What you ultimately end up with is an early draft of a 1-3-5® OKR plan. It’s a proprietary approach that further streamlines the Objectives and Key Results framework to generate better results. Share your plan, delegate responsibilities, and track your progress. That’s all it takes to get started.

OKR tracking tools make it easier to achieve your goals and objectives

It doesn’t overly matter whether you call your desired outcomes goals or objectives. What matters is that they are clearly defined, and you are actively working through a detailed plan for achieving them. That can seem overwhelming if you’re starting from scratch, which is why the OKR framework generates such remarkable results. It breaks the goal-setting process into manageable bite-sized decisions.

Reclaro’s 1-3-5® approach makes creating OKRs even easier. You don’t even need our software (although it drastically simplifies the process of cascading goals and objectives to colleagues and direct reports). Download our free OKR templates today for inspiration in the form of 1-3-5® OKR examples and editable worksheets to help you get started.

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