The Difference Between Goals And Systems

 In Blog

Photo Credit: Flickr/Carolyn Coles

by Jeff McHugh

You must set goals to be successful. Right? 

Maybe it’s wrong.

I just had a wonderful experience working with Lululemon, a Canadian fitness wear company. As you might expect from a company staffed primarily with competitive-minded athletes, their company culture is all about goal setting.

I was coached through a thorough process of setting “vision and goals” for the next ten years. I heard a lot about “BHAGs.” Big, hairy, audacious goals. Lululemon’s philosophy is that if you’re not failing 50% of the time, you are not trying hard enough.

I still admire Lululemon and its culture. I must also say that my experience there taught me to disagree with a singular focus on goals. 

The problem at Lululemon was that after goal setting, there was often no discussion about the steps that one would take to reach those goals. For instance, we might set our sights on “increasing Facebook engagement by 50%” but did not discuss how to make that a reality.

That happens in radio too. I will never forget a staff meeting where a programming VP Powerpointed a spreadsheet of social media goals and dismissed everyone without one word about how to accomplish them. Staff = demoralized.

Another method of accomplishment realization is to focus on on tactics instead of goals. Sure, you set a bar, but then you stop talking about the bar and talk instead on how to reach it.

At UCLA, coach John Wooden was known for not discussing the score or wins or losses, but focusing instead on the techniques, the strategy and the specifics of each ball possession. In his TedTalk about the difference between winning and success, he quoted a poem that stated, “thou didst thy best, that is success.”

Astronaut Chris Hadfield will tell you that focusing only on a goal is a direct way to failure. “There are very very very few people who win gold at the Olympics. And if you say, ‘if I don’t win gold then I’m a failure or I’ve let somebody down or something,’ .. What if you win a silver? What if you win a bronze? What if you come fourth? What if your binding comes apart?”

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams says that more companies would be successful if they were more focused on systems and less on goals.

Consider this article at by Jeff Haden called “An Almost Foolproof Way To Achieve Every Goal You Set. What would happen if your attention were on the steps leading to the finish line instead of at the finish line?

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