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Strategic Goals vs. Operational Goals: Understanding the Difference Between the Two

Are you a goal-oriented entrepreneur? Many entrepreneurs would describe themselves as ambitious, goal-focused people. Starting a business requires hard work, focus, and drive. 

But did you know that there are different types of goals you can set for your business? And that goal-setting is not just a mindless exercise, but that it can set your business on a path towards success?

In today’s post, we’ll look at two types of business goals: strategic goals and operational goals. And, we’ll take a look at the differences between them, and how they might work together.

What Are Strategic Goals?

If you’ve never heard of strategic goals, or you need a refresher course on them, you’ll be surprised to know that they have a pretty simple definition.

One way to define strategic goals is this: Strategic goals are goals that can be defined by a measurable quantity or number. Progress towards your strategic goals can easily be tracked or traced. 

For example, you may strive to create a company that has amazing customer service. Perhaps part of your vision is to “make customers happy.” And, that’s an amazing vision. But, you need to be able to measure it in some way before you can call it a strategic goal.

You can create a goal from your vision by making it measurable. Try it by stating: “We will increase our customer satisfaction scores by 10%” or “95% of our customers would be willing to refer our services to their friends and family.” 

See the difference? Attaching a number or the ability to measure your progress with a number will make your vision a strategic goal.

For a deeper dive into strategic goals, visit our article on Strategic Goals: What They Are, Examples, and How They Work.


What Are Operational Goals?

Operational goals, also known as work plans, are different. However, they are just as important for the success of your business. These goals, also known as tactical objectives, are not long-term goals. And, unlike strategic goals, they are not focused on the bigger “vision” of your business. 

Operational goals are typically focused on efficiency, quality, and productivity. These don’t sound like glamorous goals, but they’re important for any industry.

Some common examples are reducing turnaround time, increasing productivity, and increasing customer satisfaction. If you want to learn more about operational goals, check out our resource: 8 Examples of Operational Goals


Differences Between Strategic Goals and Operational Goals

Strategic goals and operational goals work together to accomplish your vision for success for your business. However, they are not the same.

Operational goals are different from strategic goals that are focused on a longer duration. Strategic goals tend to be focused on the larger, big-picture vision of the business while operational goals are more focused on the day-to-day performance of a single department.

Operational goals might also be defined as short-term action items, typically one to two years, focused on specific departmental objectives, often associated with budgeting.

Establishing operational goals is a great way of improving performance in a single work area and supporting a bigger-picture vision for the business. Operational goals can also help carve out a course for success in terms of enhancing customer reputation or improving a single type of goal like waste reduction. 

Here are a few key differences between strategic goals and operational goals.

  • Creators: The creators of a strategic plan are typically at the high levels of the company. Similarly, operational plans are made by first-line managers to support the strategic goals created by upper management.
  • Plan Progress: Because strategic plans are long-range plans, reporting on their progress is not done frequently. However, operational goal reporting is a different story. Organizations may have several operational goals being worked towards at the same time. So, “check-ins” for progress on these goals may happen frequently.
  • Plan Revisions: Setting a goal doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Because operational goals are more of the day-to-day goals, leaders can check in on their progress more frequently. And, there’s more of an opportunity to check in on what’s working and what isn’t working. There can be revisions to the plans for what is being done to accomplish operational goals.
  • Reasoning: Strategic plans may focus on setting the business apart, or in radical cases, helping it survive. Operational plans aim to boost efficiency and productivity. Operational plans can help to support a strategic plan, but they are not the same thing. 
  • Timeframe: Strategic planning is for a longer duration: think 3-5 years. An operational plan is usually for the upcoming year.

Regardless of the type of goal you’re setting, it’s important to remain focused. You may become discouraged, especially if you’re working towards a goal and not seeing much progress. Or worse, if you’re working hard at a goal, and your progress seems to be setting you backward in some way. 



Whether you’re creating a goal that is short-term or long-term, it’s important to remain focused. While it might not seem obvious at first, strategic goals and operational goals can complement one another. Both types of business goals exist to set your business on a path towards success. Staying committed to your big-picture vision and the need for day-to-day goals will set you on a path toward the success you’ve been dreaming of.

Also read:

Strategic Goals vs Tactical Goals: Understanding the Difference Between the Two

9 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Business Goals

Tactical Goals: What They Are, Their Examples, and How to Set Them

Erin Shelby on TwitterErin Shelby on Wordpress
Erin Shelby
Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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