Systems Over Goals
Below is something I wrote to my team, but something that has broader applicability, so sharing here…
What if I were to tell you that OKRs were for losers? What?! Well, not OKRs specifically, but having a goal itself. A goal is something you do now with the hope of a future payoff. The problem with goals, absent of having a system to achieve those goals, is that it is insufficient and puts you in a continuous state of failure. Either you haven’t achieved the goal yet, so you feel crappy, or you do and since you achieved it, you lose your single source of motivation -- the big letdown as they call it in sports. A goal person would say, I want to lose 20 pounds. A systems person would do 30 minutes of cardio and 45 minutes of weight training 5 days a week. The goal person hopes they hit their goal but feels terrible every day. The systems person makes being healthy a part of their lives and achieves something beyond a periodic goal, a lifetime of success. Systems done regularly increases the odds of your happiness in the long run.
Most successful people are systems-oriented. Think of yourself. Sure you might have had a goal to work at a hot startup, but you built a system to get here. You studied hard, got good grades, went to a great school, acquired an in-demand skill, and made yourself attractive to a recruiter, and found your way here. That’s a system.
Or think about our company. A goal would be to say we want to be the most customer-centric company in our market. But a better way would be to build a system. For instance, a good system could be that we’ll always talk to customers ahead of actually building products and recruit them to be design partners. This way we know we’ll have a customer at the end of our development process and also they’ll be understanding if our product is a work in progress. Then we’ll work closely with them in developing it, with our engineers talking directly to theirs. That gives customer exposure and connectivity to groups within our companies that normally do not get much of it. Engineers working first-hand with our customers drive increased customer-centricity. Lastly, through those efforts, we’ll have a customer who will feel more bought in the creation of the product and therefore more inclined to work with us and purchase our product.
So the next time we talk about a specific goal, please accompany that with your system to achieve those goals. Let's start building this muscle memory more broadly within the company. I'm sure it'll have a profound effect.
Systems over goals isn’t a new concept, but something I recently reflected on when reading this book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams. There’s a lot of great nuggets of life lessons in the book, including this one. Hope you find it as useful as I did and use those lessons at work and in your own lives.