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Everything Continuous Improvement


Why a BHAG May Be One of Your Best Tools for CI

Posted by Jake Sussman

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May 4, 2017 7:05:00 AM

IMG_0113.jpgWe’re not saying that your CEO needs shave his or her head, but depending on your organization’s improvement goals (and your executive’s attachment to their locks) it might be a great idea!

To explain, back in 2016 KaiNexus set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, known as a BHAG. A BHAG is a daunting, clear, and compelling goal an organization sets, which should not be financially driven, but it should be something that, if the organization achieves it, would really move the needle forward and indicate the organization has accomplished something.

Jim Collins coined the term BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in his book Built to Last, which he coauthored with Jerry Porras. As Collins explains on his website jimcollins.com unlike a mission statement, a BHAG is a powerful mechanism to stimulate progress.

“All companies have goals. But there is a difference between merely having a goal and becoming committed to a huge, daunting challenge,” Collins explains on his website. “A true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort– often creating immense team spirit.  It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”

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As our CEO and Co-founder Greg Jacobson explained in episode 11 of Ask us Anything—our video Q&A series where he and Mark Graban, our Vice-President of Improvement & Innovation Services, answer questions KaiNexus webinar listeners ask—KaiNexus’ BHAG created a lot of team spirit.

“I think a BHAG was just a really great way for us here at KaiNexus to get me emotionally involved in what we were trying to accomplish this year,” Jacobson said. In 2016 the KaiNexus BHAG was to have over 25,000 improvements completed in the system by the end of the year. At the beginning of 2016 just over 12,000 improvements were in the system, which were accomplished from 2011 through to the end of 2015.

Watch the outcome of achieving our BHAG here:


“I challenged our company, really to challenge our customers, to see if we could actually double that in one year,” Jacobson explained.

This goal was tangible, energizing, and highly focused, requiring little explanation to KaiNexus employees, which Collins explains is what a BHAG should be. As Jacobson explained in the Ask us Anything episode, BHAGs don’t just engage employees, but improve senior management’s visibility and support for continuous improvement, though this in turn engages employees as well.

In the same episode Graban stressed that visibility and support for continuous improvement is an important challenge from a leadership behavior standpoint.

“A successful culture of continuous improvement requires more than just a one-off statement of support for the concept of improvement. It requires that leaders get involved in different ways,” Graban said.

For Jacobson, that involvement wasn’t just setting the goal, coaching, and monitoring its progress, it was putting his own skin, or rather hair, in the game.

“At the beginning of the year, I turned to our VP of Sales, Jeff Roussel, and I said, ‘You know if we hit this, I’m going to let the company shave my head.’ That really played along with the ‘big hairy’ part of it.”

KaiNexus crushed its BHAG, and Jacobson lost his hair, but was happy to do so.

“I think a BHAG is a great idea to get senior leadership involved, not that they have to commit to shaving their head; maybe a small tattoo or something like that,” Jacobson joked.

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