Goal setting gets all the headlines.

    It’s like the more outgoing sibling who seems to get all the attention. Yet in this analogy, the quieter, less outlandish sibling is systems.

    Let me explain.

    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 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 door to train on a cold wet day, it’s the inputs and the training plan that will allow you to achieve the goal in the end.

    For example, if you're marathon training your plan might involve:

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

    If you can regularly complete that system, 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 yourself.

    No zero days

    I've talked about this before in my blog, What Seinfeld Taught Me About Business: you are your habits.

    This is akin to what's called the 'no zero days' concept. The advice is to do something, no matter how small, every day that moves you towards 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 (which are usually financial).

    But often there isn't enough depth on the inputs required to get the business to its goals.

    Yet it's this depth that will help you decide what systems you need to focus on in order to achieve your goals.

    As Oliver Burkeman said in this Guardian article:

    “…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.

    The BHAG

    It’s really important to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for 10 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 complementary or adjacent service providers who add value to our clients and are also world-class in their space, and 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 10-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.

    Set three-year objectives

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

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

    When we start looking five years out, that’s then over the horizon, which makes it much harder to see.

    It becomes total 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 over a three-year period:

    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.

    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.

    Overall if you don’t build new systems and skills in the business, you'll eventually max out and find yourself stuck.

    In the short term, not working on these issues doesn’t seem to make a big difference.

    It's a bit like the neighbour who doesn’t seem to spend as much time or money 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 or 10 years' time, they’re the ones 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.

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