Jim Hamilton: The difference between goals and systems
We all want to achieve individual goals in our lives — getting into better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, retiring early to travel the world, and so on.
For most of us, the path to these great things starts with setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until I met Nexstar’s founder Frank Blau.
I would set goals for the classes I took, but mostly just to pass, if I’m being honest. I’d set weight-loss goals and goals regarding the amount of money I wanted my business to provide me. What I’m starting to realize, however, is when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas important to you, there is a much better way of doing things.
It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems. Let me explain.
Goals vs. systems
What’s the difference between goals and systems?
If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million-dollar, profitable business. Your system is your operational, sales and marketing processes.
Now for the really interesting question: If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?
For example, if you were a football or baseball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results? As a matter of fact, I think you would.
As an example, recently I injured my back working out at the batting cages getting ready for our 2019 Royals fantasy baseball camp. I literally crawled into my chiropractor’s office, then had an MRI, and eventually met with a surgeon. Thank God he said that he couldn’t cut me open until I went to four weeks of physical therapy. It cost me $865 for that advice, but I digress.
I went into my therapy sessions thinking of the entire experience as an excuse for my healthcare providers to extract more money from my pocket. However, after working with my therapist five times a week for four weeks (I was bending and stretching twice a day), along with some prescribed muscle relaxants, I’m glad to say that I’m now pain-free. Surgery be damned! And most importantly, my Kansas City Royals fantasy camp attendance is still a go.
Before leaving physical therapy, my therapist encouraged me — actually, she flat-out told me — to lose 40 pounds. Odd how it meant more to me coming from her than my wife, who has been after me and my excess body mass for months.
Creating a system
In the end, I dropped the weight — not because of the goal, but because of the process I used to achieve that goal. To help you wrap your head around this concept, let’s talk about the three big reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.
1. Goals can harm your happiness if you don’t separate your business from your personal life. When you’re working toward a business goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”
The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to put happiness and success aside until the next milestone is achieved. Stop doing this! Life is short. Enjoy the journey.
The solution? Commit to a process, not a goal. Choosing a lofty goal puts a huge burden on our shoulders, but we do this to ourselves all the time.
We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight, succeed in business, or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about your big, life-changing goals.
When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment while improving yourself at the same time.
2. Goals are, strangely, at odds with long-term progress. You might think that just having goals will keep you motivated, but that’s not always true. Consider someone looking to lose weight.
Many people, myself included, will work hard for months, but as soon as they achieve their desired weight, they go back to their old habits. When all your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what’s left to push you forward after you achieve it?
I call this the “yo-yo effect,” where people go back and forth from working on a goal to not working on one. This type of cycle makes it difficult to build upon your progress in the long-term.
The solution? Focus on the process for achieving sustainable results, not the immediate results.
I was training one of my techs in Nexstar’s service system years ago, and we were on the sixth and final step of the system. He just wasn’t getting it, and I felt like he wasn’t seeing the entire picture. This is common for a green tech, and it usually takes time along with daily practice in the field to truly “get it.”
I kept reminding myself that my goal was to get fully trained techs working in the field. This tech was green, and although he was halfway (at best) from reaching my standard benchmark in the field, he was making progress. I found myself having to continuously remind myself that reaching the goal was a journey, not a deadline.
In a situation like this, a goal-centered mentality will tell you to find a better technician to reach your goal. After all, if you set a goal and you don’t reach it, then you ultimately feel like a failure. But by approaching the situation with a systems-based mentality, I had no trouble working with this tech. Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a goal, it’s about sticking to the process and looking for continuous improvements and long-term planning.
3. Goals suggest you can control things you have no control over. You can’t predict the future. Shocking, I know. Every time we set a goal, we strive to achieve it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.
The solution? Build feedback loops and reports. One day each week, every employee should be spending 10 minutes with their manager going over their results from the previous week. These results are measured according to the department’s average, and the employee will be either above or below that average.
This was the most critical metric for my business. For example, in one column I would calculate their conversion rate. This is the No. 1 metric for anyone in service or sales. If you can’t close, you can’t sell. Plain and simple.
Implementing feedback loops, a fancy name for a set process for techs to follow based on past successes, is an enormously important part of your systems-based business. When you know what actions lead to your desired outcomes, you can plan for the future without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen based on any given variable.
Fall in love with systems
None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, in my experience, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.
Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short term, but in the end, a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is key. Fall in love with your process, because committing to it is what will make the difference between success and failure in your business.