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If You’re Going to Set a Goal, Make it Big, Hairy, and Audacious

Posted by Mark Graban

Aug 11, 2017 7:02:00 AM

Untitled design.jpgRecently, I read this article by Quint Studer: “Set 'Big Hairy Audacious Goals'.” A “big hairy audacious goal,” as the author Jim Collins called it, or BHAG, can be a very powerful part of the improvement process.

Studer is a former hospital executive, founder of Studer Group (a well-known healthcare consulting firm), and is now the owner of a minor-league baseball team in Pensacola, Florida. I first learned of Studer’s work, when many people recommended that I read his book Hardwiring Excellence when I got into healthcare back in 2005. He was later kind enough to give an endorsement of my book Lean Hospitals.

Studer writes about how many organizations create a "playing it safe" goal. I see a lot of that. I remember visiting a hospital that had set a goal for some employee engagement score at 3.47 out of 5. I always wonder how many hours were spent (wasted?) debating if the goal should be 3.47 or 3.49 or 3.52. The previous year’s performance had been 3.46, as it turns out. They were basically setting a goal that said they would be the same as last year.

That’s not very inspiring, is it?

If leaders believe in their organization and their employees, they’ll set higher, more challenging goals. As Studer says, it’s not as easy as just setting a goal. Leaders need to work together with their employees. As Dr. W. Edwards Deming would have asked, “By what method?” We need a method for achieving a goal, which means leadership and some sort of improvement methodology.

Studer, in his article, tells a story about setting a goal to be at the 75th percentile. His CEO didn’t want to take a goal of 50th percentile, being average, to his board. They ended up hitting the 92nd percentile - doing so not only because they had a BHAG goal, but having a goal is a necessary first step. Studer has written about “committing to excellence” being a necessary first step.

On that topic, I hope more healthcare organizations will commit to excellence in patient safety and our next webinar on August 30 is on that topic, so I hope you’ll join us there regardless of the industry in which you work.

Paul O’Neill, when he was CEO of Alcoa, had a BHAG of being the safest company to work for in the world. Not the safest aluminum manufacturer, and not the safest manufacturer. He meant the safest company and that BHAG, along with leadership and improvement methodologies, led to dramatic improvements in employee safety.

Earlier this year, Jake Sussman wrote about our own BHAG at KaiNexus. The goal of 25,000 customer improvements might not be as inspiring as a goal around zero safety incidents, but it was inspiring to everybody on our team. We have a strong sense of purpose that focuses on the success of our customers. Keeping this BHAG in mind helped inspire marketing, sales, developers, and our customer experience team to work diligently toward this goal. Our CEO, Dr. Greg Jacobson, set the goal. More importantly, he provided leadership support and we have solid methodologies that we use to improve.

It’s not just about setting a goal. It’s not about nagging or lecturing people about getting better and hitting a goal. It’s about leadership and teamwork.

What’s your BHAG for this year? If you don’t have one, what should it be?