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.


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.


Do your employees trust your Leaders?

April 25, 2010

Recent research from marketing company Maritz Research paints a poor picture of employee’s attitudes towards their work, organisation and Leaders.  Some of the key findings include:

i. Only eleven percent of employees strongly agree that their managers show consistency between their words and actions,

ii. Worst still, only seven percent of employees strongly agree they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interest,

iii. Surprisingly, the same percentage (seven) strongly agree they trust their co-workers to do so,

iv. Twenty percent of those surveyed disagree that their company’s leader is completely honest and ethical,

v. Finally, one-quarter of respondents disagree that they trust management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty.

While the results are based on a poll of American workplaces, these findings should resonate in every organisation.  In times of significant change and uncertainty, it is not surprising that trust is low.  The question that is applicable for most Leaders is what to do with these results? I have blogged previously about Leadership in a time of crisis based on a McKinsey survey. The top two organisational qualities needed during a crisis were Leadership and Direction.  Too often, organisations spend their time, effort and resources looking externally in a crisis forgetting the importance of spending the same time effort and resources internally engaging with the workforce.

The survey results are the outcome of the failure to look internally.  What are you going to do ensure that these are not replicated in your organisation?


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.


Earning Respect in the Workplace

February 12, 2010

Brett Simmons hosts a guest blog by Jim Taggart on how Leaders can earn respect in the workplace.  Jim has been a student of Leadership for over 15 years and writes a blog at Changing Winds.

Some of the steps that Leaders can take to gain respect include:

1. It’s okay to change your mind.  A failing of many Leaders is the fear that changing their mind will make them look weak.  As Jim points out, what is important is explaining the reason for the change.

2. Communicate clearly and regularly. While this sounds obvious, in practice it is the lack of regular communication that can isolate a Leader from the rest of the organisation.

3. Give regular feedback on performance. Honest feedback when staff are doing well – and not so well – is a key step in gaining respect.

4. Share the Leadership. Delegate and empower – but only when your team are ready. As Jim says, park your ego.

5. Admit when you screw up. This is a powerful way to demonstrate Leadership – especially when it is done publicly.

Go to Brent’s blog for the full list.