This post explains the difference between a mission, primary objective, a secondary objective, a target and a goal in simple, easily remembered terms. 

Trying to understand the difference between these words sounds like a complicated grammatical conundrum, but it isn’t.

Mission – the purpose
Primary Objective – what you hope to achieve to support your mission
Secondary Objective – objectives established to support the Primary Objective
Target      – an indicator established to determine how successfully you are achieving an objective.
Goal         – an indicator established to determine whether you have achieved your objective.

Goals tend to be two state only – achieved or not achieved – a near miss in soccer is still a miss.
Targets are more measurement based.  When you hit a target in archery you achieve different scores depending on your accuracy.

The below shows the hierarchy of mission, objectives, targets and goals

Objectives Targets and Goals heirarchy

Objectives Targets and Goals heirachy

To simplify let’s look at a silly example.

  • Mission
    To be happy
  • Primary Objective
    To get married, have children and settle down (to support the mission)
  • Secondary Objective:
    To impress a damsel with your archery skills (one way you can achieve your Primary Objective)
  • Target:
    To hit the centre of the apple on the head of a knave (a measure of the degree of success)
  • Goal:
    To get your arrow in the apple without injuring the knave (a logical indicator of success)

How does that relate to my work situation I hear you ask? Let’s use another example.

Mission: Providing high quality widgets to the beer industry
Primary Objective: To keep the company profitable and healthy
Secondary Objectives (supporting the primary objective) :
1) To improve the company’s financial position.
2.) To achieve quality management system certification so that we are able to tender on larger contracts.
Target (for secondary objective 1.): 8% increase in profits year on year
Goal (for secondary objective 2.): ISO 9001 System Certification achieved before year end (read our easy ISO 9001 Certification in 25 steps article if this is you).
Secondary Objectives, Targets and Goals should all contribute to achieving the primary objective.  You can be close to your target, but close to a goal has the same effect as being a mile away.

If you liked this post, maybe you would like to read the Objectives workshop or the Difference between conformance and compliance



Rob Kellock established RKBC in 2007 to provide management systems consultancy services to private industry and government departments. In 2009 the company became Proprietary Limited and has continued to thrive under Rob's direction. Providing all the support an Organisations needs to gain and maintain certification, RKBC works closely with its customers and provides a bespoke service based on individual company needs. Conducting a full range of support services from gap analyses to System authoring to secure System Hosting, RKBC can support your organisation through it all. Many customers have an ongoing relationship with RKBC. “We aim to establish long term, mutually beneficial working relationships, helping organisations grow and avoid the pitfalls that so many fall into. Too many organisations feel their certification is a burden. We want to help organisations realise the business benefits of certification apart from meeting a statutory or customer requirement.” says Rob Kellock, Managing Director.