Forget About Goals, Work on Systems - FP Advance

Forget About Goals, Work on Systems

BY brett

Systems not goals | FP Advance

All systems go

Goal setting gets all the headlines. It’s like the outgoing sibling who seems to get all the attention.

Yet the quieter, less outlandish sibling is systems.

Let me explain.

Systems for success

Goals are great. A well-crafted goal can excite you and scare you just enough to be motivating. Too scary and you won’t start. Too easy and it doesn’t get you out of bed each day with a spring in your step.

Yet goals are not the real magic in my opinion. Systems are.

Consider a goal to run a marathon. Setting a time goal performs the role I discussed above. It gives you a rabbit to chase. And sometimes a difficult goal is hugely motivating.

But while setting the goal might help you get out the front door to train on a cold wet day, it’s the inputs, the training plan, that will allow you to achieve the goal in the end.

For example:

  • Sunday – Long run
  • Tuesday – Slow recovery run
  • Thursday – Interval/speed session
  • 8-hours sleep every night
  • Nutrition plan

If you can regularly complete that system, week after week after week, you’re going to be in a great place come race time. It’s the system, or inputs, that allow you to achieve the output, or goal, you’ve set for yourself.

No Zero Days

I talked about this in my blog, What Seinfeld Taught Me About Business: you are your habits. The concept outlined there also goes by the name, No Zero Days. The advice is to do something, no matter how small, every day that moves you toward your goal.

James Clear, master of all things habit, summed it up brilliantly in this tweet:

The same mentality is important for you and your business.

When I review business plans for consulting clients or those who are on my Uncover Your Business Potential course, the first draft always has lots of focus on the results (usually financial), but not enough depth on the inputs required to get the business to its goals.

It’s the depth of the inputs that will help you decide what systems you need to focus on to achieve your goals.

It’s how you get there

As Oliver Burkeman said in his Guardian article Want to succeed? You need systems not goals

“…focusing on a system means focusing on what you can control (your actions) rather than what you can’t (the endlessly unpredictable external world). Keep working your system and you’ll maximise the chances that success will find you.”

When you review your own business plan, see if any of these areas could do with some work.

1. The BHAG

It’s really important to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for ten years out. This lets everyone on the team know the direction of travel.

However, I recommend an additional step.

Bullet point the five big steps you’ll need to take as a business to bring the BHAG to fruition. These can be big ideas, or projects that will have to develop for you to be able to achieve your big goal.

For example:

Big step 1 – Create a world-class team of advisers and technical staff that create the core culture and standards for what amazing Financial Planning looks like.

Big step 2 – Become world class at marketing and promotion to attract a sustainable flow of ideal clients.

Big step 3 – Create depth of leadership throughout the organisation – mentor and bring through talent that is capable of running the business in the future.

Big step 4 – Partner with complimentary or adjacent service providers who add value to our clients and are also world class in their space – leverage skills and clients wherever possible.

Big step 5 – Be masters of execution daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually. In the words of Greek philosopher Epictetus, “The contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer.”

These are the systems that will require years of work to help you achieve your ten-year BHAG. Yet they also provide the focus for your plans over the next three years and even the next 12 months. These are your inputs.

2.  Set three-year objectives – not five years

I much prefer to see businesses set a three-year objective for their medium-term goals, rather than a five-year one.


Because we can sort of see three years ahead. It’s like looking to the horizon. I know it gets a bit hazy out at the horizon, but we can still make some educated guesses that can be quite accurate.

When we start looking five years out that is over the horizon, which makes it much harder to see. It becomes a little bit of guesswork. That might also let you off the hook in attaining your goals, and I don’t like to see that lack of accountability.

There are two important areas to focus on in three-years time:

a.) Some numbers, projections or measurables – the goal

b.) The descriptors – Detailed descriptions of what the business will look like and act like

It’s actually the descriptors I’m most interested in, when I review a business plan in my consulting work. The descriptors are the things that give substance to the vision. Go to town on as many descriptors as you can for what the business will look like. I’d be aiming for 10 to 20 of these descriptors, describing what the business will look like in three years time.

The descriptors then become the projects, inputs, and systems you need to create to make the business better. That’s where all the power comes from.

3. One-year goals

The goals for the business in one year need to be specific and focused on the inputs that will help you achieve your financial goals for the year (and in three years time).

The one-year goals should be laying new, deeper, stronger foundations for the business.

Start building

If you don’t build new systems and skills in the business you will eventually max out, and find yourself stuck.

In the short term, not working on these issues doesn’t seem to make a big difference. A bit like the neighbour who doesn’t seem to spend as much as you on maintaining their home. This year, no one can tell the difference between your diligent efforts and your neighbour’s more relaxed approach. But in five years or ten years time they’re up for major repairs and maintenance expenses.

Goals are exciting and sexy, but it’s systems that will make your business great.

What are the three or four major projects for your business to work on this year, that will make you a better business next year?

Let me know how you go.

Goals are exciting and sexy, but it’s systems that will make your business great.


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ABOUT BRETT DAVIDSON When you work with FP Advance you work with me, Brett Davidson, directly. My motto is ‘advise better, live better’ and I practice what I preach. I’m straight talking and get to the heart of an issue quickly. There’s no beating about the bush, just a focus on helping things improve. Ask my clients – what I teach works.