Forget your goals, build a system instead

It’s mid-January, just enough time for the good intentions of early January to meet with the harsh reality of late January. In early January, we set goals, make resolutions, and look starry-eyed at the year ahead. By late January, we just want to keep up with work and stay five extra minutes in our warm bed.

I love setting goals, but goals are dumb. Don’t get me wrong, they are important; they are just a bad thing to measure. Goals are a lagging indicator, which is an indicator of success that lags behind the actions it takes to get there.

Let’s take a company’s goal for profit as an example. Company profit gets calculated at the end of the year after every action is complete. Once profit is calculated, it can’t be changed—the metric lags behind all of the actions that affect it.

Lead metrics are more important. 

A lead metric is something you can measure now that you know will impact your goal for the future. For example, a lead measure may be a salesperson’s number of sales calls. If we know that 5% of sales calls result in business, and we know the average size of that business, we can figure out how many sales calls we need to make to hit the revenue number we want to hit to make the profit number we want to make.

Goals tend to measure the lag metrics, like “Did we hit our profit target?” But systems focus on lead metrics asking, “What needs to be put in place now to make sure we hit our profit target?”

“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”

  • James Clear, Atomic Habits

Systems are how we get to our goals because systems produce outcomes that align with our goals or don’t. Systems can be tweaked, reworked, reimagined, and changed along the way if we notice they are leading to the wrong outcomes. But, a simple measure of “did we hit our target goal?” cannot be changed; by the time you know the answer, it’s too late to change anything.

My real-life example

January, I started working full-time in my new agency. We are a podcast-first marketing content agency, helping companies create podcasts and then use that podcast content to power the rest of the company’s content marketing needs.

My goal for the agency for 2022 is to bring in $500,000. To do that, I’m working on building a system that will produce those results. This is the system I’m building:

  1. Networking. Every week my Co-Founder and I need to be networking. Networking is how I have grown my other companies, and most of the work I’ve done across my entire career has been due to knowing someone that referred a client to me.
    1. Goals for this:
      1. Twenty outbound emails per week to connect with contacts, check-in, and book a call.
      2. Ten calls per week to catch up with people, hear what they are up to, and share a bit about my company.
  2. Content: Content is what keeps you and your company top of mind. If I have a great networking call this week with a friend, I want to make sure I’m producing content that friends will see next week to keep me top of mind when they run into someone that needs my help. This is the core reason we created Edgewise, recognizing that companies need great content to stay top of mind and grow.
    1. Goals for this, weekly:
      1. One podcast per week
      2. Three videos created from the podcast recording
      3. Four social graphics created from the podcast content
      4. One Live Stream we will post on social channels
  3. Outreach: For fast growth, sometimes networking isn’t quite enough. To supplement and add to our networking, I’m adding cold outreach to potential clients. Only, I’m not reaching out to potential clients asking for a sales call; I’m reaching out asking them to be a guest on my new podcast about multiplying marketing content instead. This helps in a few ways, it helps me produce more content to stay top of mind, and it gives me a reason to reach out to a sales prospect that isn’t quite so salesy.
    1. Goals for this, weekly:
      1. Ten emails to potential podcast guests
      2. Record an average of one episode per week

Final Thoughts

Building a system like the one above gives me clear inputs that result in clear outputs. I have chosen the metrics above based on experience, but I can quickly ramp them up or down as needed. If I measure my lag metric of revenue at the end of the month or quarter, I can adjust my system up or down as needed.