What Are Goals and Objectives?
Goals and objectives provide the foundation for measurement. Goals are outcome statements that define what an organization is trying to accomplish, both programmatically and organizationally. Goals are usually a collection of related programs, a reflection of major actions of the organization, and provide rallying points for managers. For example, Wal-Mart might state a financial goal of growing its revenues 20% per year or have a goal of growing the international parts of its empire.
Try to think of each goal as a large umbrella with several spokes coming out from the center. The umbrella itself is a goal.
In contrast to goals, objectives are very precise, time-based, measurable actions that support the completion of a goal.
Objectives typically must:
(1) be related directly to the goal;
(2) be clear, concise, and understandable;
(3) be stated in terms of results;
(4) begin with an action verb;
(5) specify a date for accomplishment; and
(6) be measurable.
Apply our umbrella analogy and think of each spoke as an objective. Going back to the Wal-Mart example, and in support of the company’s 20% revenue growth goal, one objective might be to “open 20 new stores in the next six months.” Without specific objectives, the general goal could not be accomplished—just as an umbrella cannot be put up or down without the spokes.
Importantly, goals and objectives become less useful when they are unrealistic or ignored. For instance, if your university has set goals and objectives related to class sizes but is unable to ever achieve them, then their effectiveness as a management tool is significantly decreased.
Measures are the actual metrics used to gauge performance on objectives. For instance, the objective of improved financial performance can be measured using a number metrics, ranging from improvement in total sales, profitability, efficiencies, or stock price. You have probably heard the saying, “what gets measured, gets done.”
Measurement is critical to today’s organizations. It is a fundamental requirement and an integral part of strategic planning and of principles of management more generally. Without measurement, you cannot tell where you have been, where you are now, or if you are heading in the direction you are intending to go. While such statements may sound obvious, the way that most organizations have set and managed goals and objectives has generally not kept up with this commonsense view.
There are three general failings that we can see across organizations related to measurement. First, many organizations still emphasize historic financial goals and objectives, even though financial outcomes are pretty narrow in scope and are purely historic; by analogy, financial measures let you know where you’ve been, but may not be a good predictor of where you are going.Frost, B. (2000). Measuring performance. Dallas: Measurement International.
Second, financial outcomes are often short term in nature, so they omit other key factors that might be important to the longer-term viability of the organization. For instance, return on sales (ROS, or net profit divided by total sales) is a commonly used measure of financial performance, and firms set goals and objectives related to return on sales.
However, an organization can increase return on sales by cutting investments in marketing and research and development (since they are costs that lessen the “return” dimension of ROS). It may be a good thing to cut such costs, but that type of cost-cutting typically hurts the organization’s longer-term prospects. Decreases in marketing may reduce brand awareness, and decreases in research and development (R&D) will likely stifle new product or service development.
Finally, goals and objectives, even when they cover more than short-term financial metrics, are often not tied to strategy and ultimately to vision and mission. Instead, you may often see a laundry list of goals and objectives that lack any larger organizing logic. Or the organization may have adopted boilerplate versions of non-financial measurement frameworks such as Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard, Accenture’s Performance Prism, or Skandia’s Intellectual Capital Navigator.Ittner, C. D., & Larcker, D. (2003, November). Coming up short on non-financial performance measurement. Harvard Business Review, pp. 1–8.