Join Todd Dewett for an in-depth discussion in this video Developing goals and exploring Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), part of Motivating and Engaging Employees.
- Understanding goal setting is essential for any successful professional. When executed correctly, few things boost productivity more than goals. So let's talk about them in a bit more detail. Specifically, I'd like to share two somewhat different, yet complementary, approaches to goal setting. The first is the classic approach, which states that all goals should be SMART. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Reachable, and Time-bound. These are fairly straightforward.
Specific means very clear and concrete about the details of the outcome to be achieved. Goals must also be Measurable, because if you can't measure something, you can't manage it. The A is for Aligned. Goals are said to be aligned when they support each other and do not otherwise work at cross purposes, such that pursuing one goal impedes your ability to successfully pursue another goal. Next is Reachable, which simply reminds us to set challenging goals, but not so challenging that they seem unobtainable.
Finally, we have the T for Time-bound, a great reminder that every goal needs a clear deadline. If you give people the right resources, and allow reasonable participation in goal setting, the SMART approach is useful. However, there are some drawbacks. The biggest unexpected threat of this otherwise solid model is that it can encourage incremental improvement instead of more significant steps forward. The R for Reachable is particularly problematic in this regard. A habitual focus on being reasonable in order to avoid failure can become a deeply ingrained routine.
This approach leads to safe goals, and in effect, kills more daring thinking about future performance. That's why, once in a while, you need something different. Meet the BHAG, B H A G. That stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This term originated with Jim Collins' and Jerry Porras' 1994 classic book, "Built to Last." A BHAG is a strategic business statement which is created to focus an organization on a single, long-term goal which is audacious, likely to be viewed externally as questionable, but seen internally as aggressive but not impossible.
At the company level, Collins and Porras found that many successful and enduring firms often used BHAGs that were more strategic and more emotionally compelling versus traditional goals. For example, instead of saying, we need to achieve ten percent revenue growth in the next six months, they might find a goal that says, in the next ten years, we will quadruple in size. In the face of such steep goals, their research suggested that employees were quicker to align everything they were doing with the purpose of the business, in order to ensure success.
There are many well-known examples of BHAGs from history. Henry Ford stated that he wanted to democratize the automobile, to make it available to everyone. The company Amazon stated that every book ever printed, in any language, should be available in less than 60 seconds. John F. Kennedy famously looked in the camera to a live, massive audience, and said, "This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Each of these three were audacious, not reasonable.
But BHAGs are not just for the company level. They can be applied at the team and individual level. They should be used sparingly, no more than one every few years. But you should use them. I can promise you this. If your goals are not occasionally audacious, your performance won't be audacious either. Think of the case of Ted Turner, the man who created the cable channel TNT. He started the Goodwill Games, and he created news juggernaut CNN. As a child, his father told him repeatedly that he needed to learn to dream dreams so big, he couldn't possibly achieve them in one lifetime.
He grew up to create so many things and became a billionaire. Can you imagine what he must have been dreaming? Now think about how you might use this concept. Instead of only thinking about the next evaluation you must endure, or the very next promotion you have your eye on, think bigger. Imagine finishing that book you started and trying to get it published. Imagine becoming a C-level executive. Imagine launching a business and growing it as big as possible. These are not reasonable goals. They're audacious.
They light a fire under people's imaginations. They make us think about what's possible. I also wanna mention the risks associated with using BHAGs. In short, they're more risky, and achieving them is more difficult, so failure rates are higher compared to reasonable goals. So what? Eighty percent of an audacious goal is amazing compared to 100 percent of a reasonable goal. If you frame the entire experience positively, you and the team won't experience failure, you'll experience great learning.
And in moments, great exhilaration. Goals are the foundation of any productive team. Just remember that while SMART goals are very useful, every once in a while, you need to throw in a good BHAG too. Think of it this way. Being reasonable is, well, reasonable. But sometimes, you need to dream, to be audacious.
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- Assessing employee engagement
- Providing autonomy
- Building a transparent culture
- Modeling desired behavior
- Using monetary and nonmonetary motivators
- Fostering accountability
- Developing career paths for employees<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.