Why I Loathe the BHAG. In Blackboard Fridays Episode 107, Jacob talks about Growth Planning and Commercial Vision. Need this implemented into your business? Talk to the international business advisor who can do exactly that – Contact Jacob, Learn More, or Subscribe for Updates.
If you have a documented BHAG as part of your business plan, then your business plan is probably doing more damage than good in your organisation.
Maybe you’ll get lucky. In fact, I’m being too harsh – after all, there’s a good chance most of your team don’t even know what’s in your business plan. And what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
See, I don’t just loathe BHAGs because of how ugly that combination of letters are. They’re a classic example of private companies ‘copying the wrong homework’, trying to do something that a thin sliver of the world’s greatest organisations sometimes do in the hope that it’s a crazy idea on a wall that will change their business, rather than, you know, actually doing something difficult.
Don’t take my word for it – in this week’s episode I take you through the research into BHAG application in small to medium businesses, and the 3 categories of companies where they fail … sometimes making a bad situation worse.
If you’ve never heard of a BHAG before, count your lucky stars – watch and learn why you want to avoid the cult of the Big Hairy Arsed Goal (often called the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, as if that makes the word BHAG less grotesque).
And it you’re a lover and a defender of the BHAG, and you can’t bear to have it’s reputation besmirched by this bozo on a blackboard – then watch and learn the one, very rare, type of company where having a lofty moonshot goal may, and I stress MAY, just work.
Watch this week’s episode here, and direct your hatemail to the reply address above.
Who is Jacob Aldridge, Business Coach?
“The smart and quirky advisor who gets sh!t done in business.” Back independent since 2019.
Since April 2006, I’ve been an international business advisor providing bespoke solutions for privately-owned businesses with 12-96 employees.
At this stage you have proven your business model, but you’re struggling to turn aspirations into day-to-day reality. You are still responsible for all 28 areas of your business, but you don’t have the time or budget to hire 28 different experts.
You need 1 person you can trust who can show you how everything in your business is connected, and which areas to prioritise first.
Of all the business terms I’ve come across in more than a decade of international business coaching, the one I loathe the most is the BHAG.
Now partly, this is just the writer in me that thinks that it is just such an ugly combination of letters. Nobody ever rolled that out on a Scrabble board and said “Wow, how beautiful is that!” but also, when I see BHAG getting implemented into organizations, I see it actually having the opposite effect to what is desired.
Instead of it motivating the team to achieve something extraordinary, it actually undermines the team and the objectives of that business. So here in a business rather than a literary sense is why I dislike the BHAG and the one very specific set of circumstances in which it has been shown to work so that you can determine whether you should disagree with me and go ahead and implement one for you anyway.
If you’re not familiar, a BHAG is an acronym and it stands for a big, hairy, audacious goal. In Australia, the audacious is sometimes a part of the anatomy that starts with R and is also often hairy but it’s seen as that big, clear, and compelling vision and that mission that we’re all working towards. It built to last which the author’s talked about it as the bold mission and used the most common example used for a BHAG is the United States moon mission.
JFK standing up at the university and saying by the end of this decade, we will have put a man on the moon and return him safely to this earth. That is a big, hairy, whatever kind of goal. It’s big and it’s out there, does that translate into business?
Well, the first thing I see when most business owners share their organization structures missions culture with me is that they have a BHAG that’s either small, or frankly, somewhat ridiculous. Here are the questions you’ve got to ask about whether your BHAG is actually going to achieve those outcomes.
Does it stimulate progress in your business, in your industry, or is it a side thing that’s completely irrelevant to the actual progress of your business? Does it create momentum, so does having that goal get the energy and the momentum flowing in your business to move in that direction?
Does it stimulate creativity? Does it get the creative juices of your team flowing? Most importantly is remembering that what you’re looking to do is tap into the discretionary talent and energy of your employees.
Not everybody brings a 100% of themselves to work all day every day. I mean we need to sleep, we need to re-energize, we have downtime, that’s fine and that’s normal. A great BHAG taps into more of those individuals. It needs to be bigger and quite a good deal, bigger than just your quarterly or your annual goals.
If it’s only those annual goals, then the team are going to do whatever they normally do to achieve those. They’re not going to put in that extra effort because they’re excited, they’re motivated, and they can see how this will change the business and the world, that’s your BHAG.
Meet those criteria or is it just a funny kind of thing you threw into your strategic plan that makes people get a little bit excited or have a bit of a giggle? Okay, so you’ve got the BHAG and it does meet those criteria, will it actually help your business or will it set it back?
This is something that surprises people when I walk them through the research that Harvard Business Review did into the application of BHAGS. They’ve found more often than not, they cause issues rather than achieving great outcomes and it links to the prior goals that you’ve had in the business, the prior success then your team have had meeting them.
So we start with this box here. Let’s say in the past, your business has had pretty low objectives, your revenue targets haven’t really been massive, you haven’t one of them to run at full capacity, you’ve had some fairly average ordinary low goals and yet, the team has still failed to meet them.
Now, if you put a BHAG into that team, if you go, “Hey guys, we’ve never actually successfully built any kind of vehicle. Last time we tried to go outside the office, we all got hay fever and had to come back in but we’re going to put a man on the moon.” It’s too big, it’s too far a stretch.
The team are not going to be connected in any way and they’re probably laughing about you behind your back for even putting it out there. This is not a good spot to implement a behave this is a good spot to redesign your business to work out why your team of failing to me even the lowest objectives.
Now let’s say you’ve had some higher goals. These are over and above industry standards, you’ve pushed the team to achieve them, and unfortunately, they still have not. Is this a good time to throw a BHAG on them? Absolutely not right now. This team is demotivated. They were given some goals, and even though they were a stretch, the team failed to achieve them and they’re feeling a little bit deflated about that.
Your focus here is remote evading them perhaps, giving them the same goals with some different ways to approach them to get them to achieve those goals and knock them out of the park.
If you put a BHAG on top of that, this team is going to sit there and go, “Well, you gave us these annual goals that were a stretch and we failed. You’ve got this clear compelling mission, you think we’re going to do that? Uh-huh again, the energy of your team determines whether the behave will succeed.
So let’s talk about teams that have achieved their prior goals. In this case, they’ve gone in and they’ve had low goals not much of a stretch but they’ve achieved them. Pat themselves on the back, is this a time to throw a BHAG at them. No, still no, not quite ready, you have reached a stepping stone.
This is the point at which you can pat the team on the back, acknowledge their success in achieving their goals and start to stretch the goals start to give them some slightly bigger challenges without yet going to the full giant jump that comes with the BHAG.
It’s the final category where you have had high goals for your team in the past and they have achieved those goals. This is where BHAG has been shown to have some benefit because you have a high performing team already. They’ve been stretched with some goals and they’ve achieved them. they’ve knocked them out.
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