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.

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