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Differentiating Between Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

What is the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes? After all, they seem to be synonymous with measuring employees’ performance. However, when it comes down to understanding how to differentiate and improve an employee’s performance, perhaps there might be a need to differentiate between these three words.

According to the definitions from Business Dictionary, a goal is “an observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe”. For instance, an organisation’s goal might be to “increase revenue for the financial year” while an employee’s goal might be to “achieve growth in net sales for the financial year”.

This then leads us to define an objective as “a specific result that a person or system aims to achieve within a time frame and with available resources.” Essentially, objectives are more specific and easier to measure than goals. An example of an individual objective could be to “achieve 10% growth in net sales for the Singapore market for financial year 2018”.

Finally, outcomes are the “determination and evaluation of the results of an activity, plan, process, or program and their comparison with the intended or projected results”. Using the previous example, an outcome might be “to achieve 10% growth in net sales as compared to 2017 for the Singapore market for financial year 2018”.

The problem with these three “measurements” is that organisations, managers and employees tend to focus only on one aspect. If the organisation is outcome-focused, this is good as it helps to set the direction for managers and employees to set their goals. At the same time, managers spend a lot of time ensuring that employees’ goals are aligned with the organisation’s values and employees’ career path. However, the big question is: are these three measurements aligned with each other?

To truly keep employees engaged and increase productivity levels, employees need to be able to see the value of their work. And that is that is where alignment in terms of objectives, goals and outcomes have to be in place.

While there is no solution for every organisation, perhaps the way to improve the system is to utilise objectives as a basis for creating goals. Finally, outcomes should be linked to both objectives and goals. At the same time, there should be constant feedback and communication sessions between both employees and managers to ensure that alignment.

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