We all identify goals to improve ourselves in some way. Whether our goal is to eat better, exercise more, spend more time with our family, or increase our productivity, we all have something we're striving for. Although in too many instances, we lose sight of our goals and fall back to old behaviors and the same results.
Continuous improvement is no different. So many organizations set out on a journey of continuous improvement with gusto and quickly lose momentum, causing their initiative to struggle. How do you prevent your organization from slipping back into bad habits? A sustaining culture of continuous improvement is supported by strategic goal setting.
Set SMART Goals
First, it’s time to get SMART! Well, you’re probably already smart, but if you want to set sustainable goals, you’ll do well to remember these 5 simple tenants of goal setting:
SpecificIt’s not enough to set general goals; you must choose detailed criteria if you want your people to rally around your ideas. Here are a few examples of continuous improvement goals to get you started:
- Get at least one idea for improvement from 75% of our employees
- Implement 2 projects that each save the company over $100,000 per year
- Score 90% or above on next year’s employee engagement survey
MeasurableIt’s amazing how many people get this part wrong by setting goals that are too general to measure. You know where you’re going, but how will you know if you got there without a good system to measure your results? Here are some examples of measurable goals:
AttainableI get it. We all want a billion dollar in savings by implementing 100% of over a million opportunities for improvement. I also want a yacht, plane, and my own tropical island. You'll get the best results, though, if you set goals that you actually have a shot at achieving. Remember, you can always set new goals if you blow these away. Setting realistic goals leads to more success and celebration, which ultimately will result in even more success.
RelevantWhen setting goals, make sure that they’re goals that will drive your team and your organization forward. If your answer to all of these questions is yes, your goals are probably relevant:
- Is this really worth doing?
- Do we actually need to do it NOW?
- Is this goal in alignment with our strategic initiatives?
- Am I assigning this to the right people?
- Does this goal apply to the current state of the business?
Time-BoundSaying that you want to roll out your culture of continuous improvement to your entire organization is a great goal – but if you don't identify a time frame for getting it done, you’re unlikely to achieve it. Setting a deadline helps keep your team on track and gives you something concrete to shoot for. It also helps to break down your larger goals into smaller goals with specific due dates. Do this by asking yourself what you intend to achieve in a year, in six months, and in eight weeks.
Identify a BHAG
Another strategy to successful goal setting is to identify and pursue a BHAG: a big, hairy, audacious goal.
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.”
This is a strategy that our team uses at KaiNexus to get the whole company to rally around one metric that defines success and is the result of the work of every person on the team. For us, that's the number of improvements our customers have completed in the system because this metric is the ultimate measure of success for our company.
In addition, here are a few personal suggestions to give your goals the best chance for success. After all, it’s not just about setting goals; it’s about achieving them.
- Put your goals in writing. If all you do is talk about them, you’ll likely lack the commitment to achieve them.
- Make an action plan. By themselves, goals are useless. Use them to create a list of actions that will help you achieve your goals.
- Tie them to your organization’s true mission. Aligning your goals to your mission means that everyone can be bought in.
And the last (and perhaps most important) bit of advice for (re)setting continuous improvement goals—get started right away. There’s no better time than the present.
What other advice do you have for setting great continuous improvement goals?