Friday, June 3, 2016

What's Your Purpose? Goal v. Objective, Mission v. Vision

It is good for our psychological well-being to have direction and purpose in life. Social interactions of any kind (business, friendship, courtship, etc.) also have more substance when there is meaning behind the activities. This being said, I occasionally come across someone who confuses "goal" and "objective" or who uses them interchangeably. There are a couple of distinct differences between these two concepts. In order to round out the organizational directives, I also included the differences between a mission statement and a vision statement. So, let's take a look at these ideas and perhaps understand why they are confused so often.


Objective: something that one's actions or efforts are intended to attain or accomplish. On the surface, I can almost see why someone would treat an objective as a goal. However, an objective is more of an end result, kind of like a destination that you will eventually get to, but you're not really in a rush to get there. It's an "I'll know it when I see it" type of thing. Examples of objectives include:
  • being the best kazoo player on the west coast
  • owning your own home with a swimming pool and garage
  • learning a new language
  • being able to recite the US Declaration of Independence from memory
Notice that these examples are fairly vague. It doesn't matter how or when they are accomplished, only that they are ultimately achieved.


Goal: the result of achievement toward which effort is directed. The goal is SMART--specific, measurable, actionable, and (most importantly) time-limited. Objectives can easily be converted into goals with some important tweaking. For example, "learning a new language" becomes a goal when we
a) make it specific--Learn to speak and read French
b) make it measurable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency
c) make it actionable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency by taking online French language classes
d) make it time-limited--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency withing 6 months by taking online French language classes

Although the last sentence may seem cumbersome, it is an ideal goal statement because it gives the individual (and anyone else) the ability to determine the progress made toward goal accomplishment. It also allows for adjustments to be made if the progress seems to be faster or slower than originally anticipated. There should be fewer questions about how the goal will be achieved and whether it can be met. Too often have I seen individuals state "goals" when they are really identifying their objectives. Objectives tend to be ongoing, whereas goals have an identifiable end.


Vision Statement: the declaration of an organization's objectives and purpose for existence. The vision statement is usually a broad, sweeping statement of why the organization exists and how the organization fits into the larger realm of society.


Mission Statement: an official document that sets out the function, purpose, and goals of an organization. The mission statement outlines how the organization intends to achieve its vision. For example, if an organization's vision is for a brighter tomorrow, it's mission statement may include the ways in which it will bring light to the world. Let me try sculpting this a little better.

Example Vision Statement:
Hathaway Global is an organization committed to forming a brighter tomorrow. We are dedicated to ensuring that the world's population enjoys a future full of promise and we strive to provide a warm environment for our employees.
Example Mission Statement:
Hathaway Global endeavors to bring light to the world by providing quality ceramic light bulbs to low-income areas around the world. We are dedicated to using all-natural, recyclable materials that will enable us to keep costs low while ensuring a longer life-time to our products.

I admit that there is a bit of overlap in these concepts. Many organizations combine the vision and mission statement, either because they don't know any better or because they feel that only one statement is necessary. Some organizations opt for only a vision statement or only a mission statement. Some companies even include a value statement, which is even more vague than a vision statement. Many individuals have their own vision, mission, objectives, and goals. Writing and formalizing these can be a good practice, helping to give you a sense of purpose. Perhaps if more people did that, there would be fewer cases of "midlife crisis." Then again, maybe not.