Think About Systems More than Goals

Last week I was asked about some of my current goals and I replied that I’m more focused on systems and processes to achieve desired outcomes. Goals are important insomuch as you need to decide where you want to go. Only, too often, entrepreneurs spend their valuable time thinking through goals only to have them sit on the side in a dormant state. Once there’s a general direction, effort is much better spent on the systems and processes that will culminate in achieving the goals.

Take for example a common entrepreneur statement: we want to sell 10 new customers this quarter.

How so? We’re going to allocate more time and money to sales and marketing.

Then what? We’re going to track our metrics more closely.

And how does that help? We’ll see where we’re tracking and can optimize our efforts more effectively.

That’s typically the end of it.

Now, instead of focusing on selling 10 customers, and making that the emphasis, the effort should be on the process that produces new customers. Some questions to ask:

  • What sales activities are within our control?
  • How many activities do we need to perform?
  • How frequently do we need to perform those activities?
  • What are the different stages of the sales funnel and conversion ratios?
  • What changes if we fall behind our required output?

Goals represent the outcomes and systems represent the flow of work performed to achieve the output. Especially important is controlling what you can control. You can’t guarantee 10 new customers will sign up this quarter. You can guarantee the activities necessary to have a good chance at the desired outcome are performed. Then, the result is the product of what you can control.

For another perspective, watch The Perfectionist on 60 Minutes about coach Nick Saban. The big takeaway: Saban doesn’t talk about winning and the current score, he talks about how to “challenge the players to play every play in the game like it had a history and life of it’s own” so that the results take care of themselves. Too much time is spent worrying about what’s happened and where things stand — elements that can’t be changed. What can be controlled is focusing on the task at hand and performing it at the highest level.

The next time the topic of goals comes up, focus the efforts on the systems that will achieve those goals.

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