Goals and Objectives: The Difference Between the Two and Why it Matters

  • April 13, 2021

When preparing a proposal, it is very important to understand the difference between goals and objectives. Many small business owners mistakenly use these terms interchangeably to mean the same thing, which can muddy the clarity of the overall proposal and leave reviewers with a less defined understanding of the proposed activities and why they are important.

Goals

Goals are a big-picture idea of the overall point of the project. While there may be individual activities and milestones the team seeks to meet while accomplishing the goal, these smaller milestones are not to be confused with the goal itself. For example, if your company is developing a medical device to make surgery safer, that is your goal: Create a device that offers safer outcomes during surgery. While there may be individual objectives needed to meet that goal, it is important to know the distinction between the two. One of our favorite analogies to understand the difference between goals and objectives is to compare the project to a road trip. Say you want to go to New York City. Getting to your destination in New York City is the goal. The individual steps you must take to get there are your objectives.

Objectives

Objectives are the individual outcomes within the project that help track progress and the necessary activities to achieve the big picture result or goal. Using our previous analogy of a road trip to New York City is a great way to illustrate the objectives. You know your goal, to get to New York, but what steps do you have to take to get there, and how will you know you are on the right track? Steps might include packing the car, filling the gas tank, planning the route on a map. Indicators of successful progress may be starting the car at the beginning of the trip and seeing signs for New York City while on the drive. These are your objectives, the individual activities, and markers of progress essential to meet the goal.

Why Is This So Important?

Reviewers will want to see that you understand the difference between goals and objectives and have a clear description of both in your proposal. This is especially true of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the federal government but is also often a required component of foundation grant proposals, pitch competitions, and more.


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