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.


Why action is the tool to achieving success

April 10, 2011

Why take a decision when you can be held responsible for failure?  Why stick your head above the parapet when you might get it shot off?  Why lead when you might not be followed?  When  we are in a world where the spotlight is ever increasing, why would any person put themselves in the limelight?

Rossabeth Moss Kanter, the Harvard change guru, writes in the Harvard Business Review that any action, no matter how small, can contribute to the saving of a company while inaction leads – or contributes – to a slow death. “Companies heading downhill have passive cultures. Unmade decisions pile up. Opportunities are lost. No one wants to risk making a mistake.”  Kanter, however, believes that there are 4 reasons why any action is better than none.

1. Small Wins Matter – because they lead the way to bigger wins

2. Accomplishments come in pieces – every step brings you closer to achieving your goals

3. Perfection is unattainable anyway – so just do it anyway. If you fail, you can try again.

4. Actions produce energy and momentum – action is motivating and encourages you to continue


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?


What Would Peter Drucker Say

December 14, 2009

Harvard Business Review have been celebrating the centenary of the birth of Peter Drucker, one of the fathers of modern management.  HBR publish some of his classic contributions, as well as perspectives on Drucker’s influence from key contributors including Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Ellen Peebles.

Classic Drucker articles for the HBR include Managing Oneself and What Makes an Executive Successful (Registration with HBR required to read the full articles).  In What Makes an Executive Successful (Note 1), Drucker outlines the 8 steps all successful executives follow – whether they are dull or charismatic, easygoing or controlling, generous or parsimonious.  They all asked the followed these practices:

  1. What needs to be done?
  2. What is right for the enterprise?
  3. They developed action plans
  4. They took responsibility for decisions.
  5. They took responsibility for communicating.
  6. They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. They run productive meetings.
  8. They think and say “We,” not “I.”

In Managing Oneself (Note 2), Drucker discusses how we must take responsibility for managing ourselves over the course of our working lives.  “To do this, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself. What are your most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses? Equally important, how do you learn and work with others? What are your most deeply held values? And in what type of work environment can you make the greatest contribution?”  Drucker outlines simple questions (if hard in practice) that we must ask ourselves to begin the journey of self-awareness.

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What are my values?
  3. Where do I belong?
  4. What do I contribute?

Note 1: What makes an Executive Effective, Peter Drucker, Harvard Business Review, June 2004

Note 2: Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker, Harvard Business Review, January 2005