Goal setting seems easy enough.
Set a goal, get it done.
We all know it’s not that easy. This was top of mind recently when I read about an organization that set a pretty low goal of improvement. They went on to explain that they set the goal so they could achieve it.
Will this goal truly achieve what they want?
Why do companies and leaders set all-too achievable goals, or worse yet, no goals at all? Perhaps they set lofty goals previously, and when that lofty goal was not reached, they were criticized for not achieving the goal — even though they did show good improvement.
That’s when the “playing it safe” goal is born.
Noted researcher and author James Collins demonstrated that the best companies and companies that became great set what he termed “BHAG”—Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
While many times that goal was not achieved, or maybe took a while to achieve, the organizations that set Big Hairy Audacious Goals did better than ones that did not set such goals.
I learned this from Mark Clement, my former boss and a hospital CEO in Chicago the mid 1990’s. Mark had taken the role after the hospital had a significant layoff, lost around $7 million, and was struggling in many performance areas. I came shortly after Mark as the senior vice president.
One day at an executive team meeting the agenda was to set goals for the next year in these areas: Quality, employee turnover, patient satisfaction, profit (as in let’s have some profit this time), etc.
We started with Patient satisfaction. Our rating was dismal with a satisfaction percentile in the single digits nationally. Considering our terrible rating, we suggested the goal be the 50th percentile – just get to average. The senior leader team was worried we had gone too far.
“I’m not taking the goal of being average to our board,” Mark told us.
So, we slowly raised the number to the 75th percentile and finally Mark was satisfied. I was told by the company measuring these satisfaction ratings that this kind of jump would be extremely difficult. Still, Mark shared this lofty goal with the board of directors and off we went.
With the goal so far from our current state, it quickly became apparent we would have to do things much differently. So we did. We learned from others. We connected the “why,” why patient satisfaction was important and why we should make our company a better place to work for employees.
We missed the 75th percentile that next year. Instead, we made the 92nd percentile.
I firmly believe if we left that meeting with the goal as the 25th percentile, we wouldn’t even have reached that. Setting a high goal created an urgency to change and change quickly. Why? The patients deserved the best care. That is what the mission said.
That lesson followed me a few years later when I became the administrator of Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. My first meetings with employees I shared that our goal needs to be to become the best hospital in the country.
“Do you mean county?” one employee asked. I meant country … nation … the United States.
Did we get there? In a few areas, but not in every area. Still, we were we better because of a lofty goal.
If a BHAG is just too much for you then set a milestone goal, then a stretch goal with a time line.
We learn from many others. Martin Luther King Jr. set lofty goals in civil rights. While we still have a long way to go, would we be farther along if he had set low goals? I doubt it.
President Kennedy, said we would get to the moon. This lofty goal, like Dr. King’s, inspired people.
Let us not shy away from lofty goals, whether they be personal, work, home or striving to make our community better.