Forget your goals, build a system instead

Adam Walker
4 min readJan 20, 2022

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.”

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…

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Adam Walker

Husband. Father of six. Wearer of fedoras. Serial entrepreneur. Nonprofit co-founder. I write about personal growth & leadership.