What is the difference between an aim and an objective?

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SMART

Aims and objectives are two widely used concepts in business literature. They are sometimes used interchangeably and loosely refer to targets or goals. However, these terms are different from each other. This article will focus on the key differences between aims and objectives.

Aim is usually considered a general statement, whereas ‘objectives are statements of specific outcomes that are to be achieved’ (Johnson, Scholes & Whittington, 20O6, p.209). Objectives usually follow SMART criteria, whereas this is not the case with aims.

Aims are statements of intent, usually expressed in broad terms. On the other hand, an objective is a goal or target to achieve the aims. In other words, it can be said that the achievement of aims depend on the achievement of objectives.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, agreed/achievable, realistic and time-bound. Objectives are very specific whereas aims are slightly vague. Timeframe also makes a difference between aims and objectives. Objectives of a project accompany a stipulated timeframe which is not the case with aims. Having a set timeframe helps an objective in being measured as well.

Objectives need to be realistic and agreed to be pursued by all concerned. They also need to be measurable. Organisations need to know if they are achieving their objectives. They need to measure whether they are meeting the objectives or not.

An example of an objective is as follows:

To achieve a 10% return on capital employed by December 2016.

The statement above is specific, measurable and has a timeframe to follow. Therefore, it can be argued that the above statement is an example of an objective, and not of an aim.

To conclude, it can be argued that aims and objectives are different from each other.  Some writers argue that it is not always necessary to express an objective in quantifiable and measurable terms. However, most of the academic sources accept the importance of SMART criteria to develop objectives.

The article publication date: 06 September 2016

Further reading/references

Johnson, G., Scholes, K. and Whittington, R. (2006) Exploring Corporate Strategy: Text and Cases, 7th Edition, UK: Prentice Hall

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management and marketing. He is a graduate of both Leeds Metropolitan University and London South Bank University.