What is the difference between objectives and KPIs?

A Grapevine reader sent in a question asking what the difference is between objectives, goals (or aims) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is.

This is a common question, so here is an answer for you, in case have been wondering.


Objectives are what you need to achieve.


KPIs are like your car speedometer or fuel gauge

KPIs are the measures that tell you if you are on the way to achieving your objective or not. They are indicators and they give you an indication of what is going on.  

You can think of them as being like your fuel gauge or speedometer in your car.

Key Performance Indicators are just a form of feedback. Don’t be confused or put off by the words. Feedback is just factual information about what you said or did that enables you to make decisions about what to do next.


Your sales objective might be: 
$100,000 of sales by December.

Some KPIs could be:

  • Invoice size
  • Number of orders
  • Churn rate (how many customers you lose and gain over a period of time).
  • Average order size
  • Number of repeat orders from a particular client

If you think about it, none of them on their own will tell you if you have achieved your objective on their own. The average order size may have increased, but if you are getting fewer orders, this many not give you the sales you need. You may be getting some repeat orders, but they may be very small orders, or not very many orders.

The important thing is to choose measures that are relevant to your objectives and check that they really are telling you what you think they are telling you.

The purpose of the KPI is to provide you with information that helps you to work out how to achieve your objectives.


Imagine you need to be at a meeting by 3pm and you are 30 miles away. You have cut things a bit fine. One useful indicator might be your speed of travel. However, if you are heading in the wrong direction, this is not very useful to you. You need the direction too.

So make sure you test that you are getting the information you need before you start relying on it.


Objectives, goals and targets are much the same thing and often used interchangeably.

However, some organizations have their own definitions of each. Sometimes people use “Goal” for the top-level objectives.

Personally, I always think ‘targets’ are what you aim at, but don’t necessarily hit (certainly this applies in my limited archery and darts experience).

Aims are the other side of targets from objectives, in that they seem less precise or firm. They are what you are ‘aiming’ for, but may not achieve. So I prefer to use ‘objectives’ when I am talking about the things I need to achieve.


Make sure you have clear objective and that you have KPIs or feedback set up in order to help you to achieve them. Test that you’ve got it right before relying on it.

Remember, Key Performance Indicators are just one form of feedback. You may well need others as well.


Getting your objective right isn’t always easy. Our handy booklet “How to Write Objectives That Work” will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need. And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.

You’ll discover:

  • The key steps to take to write any objective
  • 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
  • How to make your objectives SMART

And much more.  Get “How to Write Objectives That Work” now


Feedback makes more difference to performance than anything else. You can make drastic improvements to the performance of your team just by making sure they are getting the feedback they need. But feedback done badly actually reduces performance.

“Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” is a simple, step-by-step guide will take you through the tools and techniques you need in order to give feedback that really does make a difference in a way that is a lot easier than you think.

You will discover:

How to give feedback without causing office or awkward situations
The three key things you need to get across when giving feedback
What feedback really is

Get “Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” now.