The Difference Between Goals, Objectives and Outcomes

Career Development

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During this year’s Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference and Expo, I had the opportunity to attend a pre-conference workshop on improving human performance. One of the big takeaways from the workshop was the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes. I know how easy it is to use these terms interchangeably.

And at first glance, there might not be anything wrong with using the words as synonyms. They’re all focused on achievement, right? Not a big deal. But then, maybe it is important to differentiate them. Here are the definitions of each with an example:

Goals are an observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved. Goals are typically broad in scope. For example, a goal might be for an organization to “increase profits”. Or an individual might have a goal to “become certified”.

Objectives are a specific result you’re trying to achieve within a time frame and with available resources. They’re considered more specific and easier to measure than a goal. Think of them as the steps you will take to achieve the goal. Using the examples above, a company’s objective might be to “Call all existing customers in Q3 with a special promotion to increase sales.”. For an individual, the objective might be to “Research all relevant HR certifications and register for the exam before the end of the year.”

Outcomes are the measurement and evaluation of an activity’s results against their intended or projected results. Outcomes are what you hope to achieve when you accomplish the goal. Again, using the above examples, the organization’s outcome might be to “increase profit by 50 percent over last quarter”. That’s what the company is trying to do. For an individual, the outcome could be “get a new job” or “get a pay increase” as a result of earning a certification.

It seems

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