Why Big Hairy Audacious Goals are not enough?

April 28, 2011

The Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) has been around for some time.  The notion of the BHAG was first put forward by two James Collins and  Jerry Porras in their 1996 article Building Your Company’s Vision. A BHAG, as defined by Collins and Porras, aims to encourage companies to set “…an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future.”  BHAGs can help provide a single focal point that acts as a catalyst for a company’s (and its employees) actions.

However, BHAGs on their own are not enough. In fact, the fact that they appear to be so daunting (or they would not be a BHAG) can create the fear of failure in employees, leading to a paralysis of action.  If the goal is seen as so large, and far away, as to be unachievable, it can act as a demotivator – the opposite effect of what a BHAG is supposed to achieve.

How can an organisation overcome this?  In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Bob Sutton argues that BHAGs can be too obvious, too blunt (to direct immediate performance) and too daunting.  Bob outlines the need for a company’s leadership to break the BHAG into small steps – a series of actions that can be taken to drive organisation activity towards achieving the BHAG.

A good boss does have to set out the strategic vision for the organisation.  But they must also “help them see what they can and must accomplish right now”.  Once employees see the quick wins, they will begin to believe that the BHAG is achievable and fear will turn to motivation and action.


What Next for Employees?

July 27, 2010

The Towers Watson 2010 Global Workforce Survey provides some interesting insights that should be taken into account by all Leaders when planning for the future of their organisations.  Based on 20,00 workers in 22 countries, some of the key points in the survey include:

  • Employees see security as a fast disappearing part of the employment relationship although 76% want a secure position above all else
  • Only 38% of employees think that their leaders have a sincere interest in their well-being while less than half think that their leaders inspire and engage them
  • Almost 40% of employees are either disenchanted or fully disengaged
  • 42% of staff think they have to go elsewhere to advance

As many organisations are finding out, it is one thing to keep employees when they have no other options but, when the upturn does come around – and for some companies, it already has – these employees will start to question how they have been treated during the downturn. The best of these employees will have the earliest options to move to what they consider to be a better job.

Now is the time for Leaders to begin reengaging with employees through, for example, challenging work design, growth opportunities and, putting in place recognition programmes.


Is it the situation not the person?

June 15, 2010

A very interesting article in Fast Company by Dan Heath (author of Made to Stick) looks at the impact that the Fundamental Attribution Error can have on how we assess behaviours.  Fundamental Attribution Error occurs when we attribute the behaviour of an individual in a specific context to being part of their core character.

A typical example is how we all can sometimes behave when in rush hour traffic.  Most of us have committed acts when driving that, while not life threatening,  are not always nice!  Do these acts reflect our real personality?  Do we react in a similar fashion in other contexts when under stress – probably not.

Sometimes we need to take a step back when assessing an unusual behaviour, especially one that is out of character,  and ask the question: is this behaviour a result of the situation or is it the person?


12 Things Good Bosses Believe

May 31, 2010

Bob Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University . He writes an excellent blog, as well writing for, among others, the Harvard Business Review.  A believer in evidence based management, he is one of the sanest and more interesting writers on management out there. This is all a forerunner for one of his latest pieces on the 12 things good bosses believe. These include:

  1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  2. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  3. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?”
  4. Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
  5. How I do things is as important as what I do.

The rest are available at the HBR blog.  For my part, I will add that a leader needs to get his people to understand why the organisation does what it does.  This is crucial to getting buy-in and that all important engagement.


Who is responsible for poor performance?

April 16, 2010

I was recently approached by a manager for help with an employee who ‘refused’ to change.  A twenty year veteran with the organisation, the employee had ‘seen off’ several managers.  A high performer when it was the way she wanted to work, the employee had successfully avoided all attempts to introduce new methods of working.  Managers, after a few forlorn attempts to introduce new ideas,  gave up and she was left to her own devices.

Who is at fault for this failure to change – the employee or the organisation?  In conversation with the manager, it became clear that previous manager’s had abdicated responsibility for the employee taking the line of least resistance.  While the employee does bear some responsibility for the pattern of behaviour, her resistant patterns have been rewarded by her various managers.  This way of working is what she knows best – ‘I like doing my job my way’.  Any new manager will be a brief nuisance and will soon see the light!

What is the answer?  As I have blogged previously, behaviour change requires consequences.  The current consequence for the employee of their refusal to change is to be allowed to continue as per usual.  For the manager to bring about change, there must be consequences – and these must outweigh the desire to continue the behaviour.  The most immediate consequence should be that the manager makes it clear that they will not be going away.


Managing your top teams anxiety

April 9, 2010

All of us suffer from anxiety; it happens when we face into a new, difficult or challenging situation. Anxiety in itself should never be an issue but it can be a problem if it is not recognised and managed.  Organisations that are undergoing upheavals are likely have increased levels of anxiety. Leaders need to learn to recognise and manage the anxiety in their top teams to ensure that it does not affect performance at a time when the they need to rely on the tope team more than ever.

People Management list some of the steps that can be taken to manage anxiety. Aimed at L&D specialists, the article is equally valid for Leaders. Some of the steps for managing anxiety include:

Validate feelings
Get your top team to talk about how they experience the pressures they face. As we often feel weak if we acknowledge being less than confident, this normalising of emotions can be helpful.  A leader can start the process by admitting that they have anxieties.

Challenge behaviour
Empathy is important but honesty is vital.  Leaders need to understand the negative impact on their team – and the wider organisation – of the failure to manage anxiety. Direct criticism may evoke defensiveness; simply describe how the organisation experience the practical consequences of this behaviour.

Identify triggers
Having helped your team understand the impact of their behaviour, work to identify key situations, people or events that trigger anxiety. The more we are aware of our default position(s), the better we can resist them.

In the pressure cooker of modern organisations, it can be seen as weak to acknowledge the existence of anxiety.   It is the Leader’s responsibility to address this issue – failure to do so can increase the likelihood of a failure of performance.


Eight Simple Rules to Becoming a Better Leader

March 15, 2010

Melissa Raffoni has a post on the HBR website that all Leaders should read.  President of Raffoni CEO Consulting, she works with CEOs of major organisations.  In this short but important post, she outlines in clear terms what employees want from their Leadership.  None of this should surprise any good Leader; what is surprising is how often we don’t put it into practice.

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules. Be clear, be direct and let me get on with my job.

2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line. Fairness and equity for everyone – for good and bad performance.

3. Get me excited. Give me a reason to get engaged in what I do.  I don’t do boring!

4. Don’t forget to praise me. When I do something that deserves praise, not 12 months later at a review.

5. Don’t scare me. Tell me what I need to know but don’t dump all of your problems on me.

6. Impress me. Lead by example.

7. Give me some autonomy. Trust me – that’s why you hired me.

8. Set me up to win. Help me to win and you look good too.

All Leaders should print these out and ask themselves every day – am I following these rules?  If not, why not?


Coaching V Mentoring V Consulting

March 11, 2010

I am spending an increasing amount of time coaching executives – reflective of the exciting business world. One challenge that I face is that the coachee wants a solution and, quite often, wants it now.  This can be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of coaching and mixing it up with mentoring – an experienced person sharing wisdom – or a consultant – an experienced person brought into to provide a solution. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find their own solution.  Getting these distinctions across at the beginning of a coaching assignment is crucial.

I came across a great summary in Excellence in Coaching edited by Jonathon Passmore:

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you driving the car
  • A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from their own experience of driving cars
  • A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

It is not enough to Manage by Wandering About

February 28, 2010

Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a management practice first proposed by Peters and Waterman in their seminal book In Search of Excellence. As  a technique, it aims to allow management to bypass the bureaucracy of the organisation and stay in contact with those that do the actual work.  It is communication at its best.

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge discusses some research that shows that management visibility on its own is no guarantee of success.  Unless managers understand that MBWA is more than just walking about, they can cause more harm than good.  The research looked at a number of hospitals that engaged with front line workers on process improvements.  The result showed that improvements were achieved in most instances, leading to not just improvements in processes but in the overall organisation climate.

However, it is also possible to damage that climate.  The researchers found that it is not just important to engage with front line staff.  It is how you engage that will make the difference.  It is too easy for MBWA to be viewed as an audit that is trying to find errors or an attempt to catch employees making mistakes. If this is the perception of MBWA, trust will be quickly eroded, increasing hostility and suspicion – the exact opposite of what MBWA is attempting to achieve.

Some simple steps that managers can follow to ensure that MBWA is effective include:

o Do it solo – senior managers should MBWA alone and not hunt in packs

o Ask questions

o If you give a commitment to act on something, follow up

o Don’t undermine your supervisors – this is not an opportunity to whinge

o Do it often – it is not a fad and repetition will make it seem the norm


Creativity and Thinking in the Workplace

February 27, 2010

I recently attended a Creative Thinking workshop facilitated by Aaron Downes of Creative Development. A very interesting workshop, it made me think about whether organisations allow or suppress thinking in the workplace.  Do we foster independent thinking amongst our employees or is creativity frowned upon?

The greater use of standardised systems – such as reward and performance management – the greater danger that creativity is stifled as employees work to those standards only.  Equally managers feel constrained to manage and reward employee’s performance within a narrow defined range of objectives.  The systems become an end in themselves rather than a means to a better organisation. Such systems can straightjacket creativity by taking risk out of the equation.  When your reward – be it money or recognition – depends on not making mistakes, employees have little incentive to do other than play it safe.

What can organisations do to encourage creativity?  Crucially, organisations need to begin to develop a culture that values creativity, risk and failure.  They also need to give staff the tools to think different – be it De Bono’s Lateral Thinking or Go Mad’s Thinking Framework.  Finally, they need to give manager’s the space to allow staff to make mistakes without the fear of short term consequences.