Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's your BHAWG?

In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras suggested that successful companies use BHAGs ("Big Hairy Audacious Goals") to articulate their vision and engage stakeholders. Some of the companies lauded in BTL have fallen on tough times in the decade since the book came out. But there is no question that the guiding principles outlined by the authors have had a huge impact on business people, politicians and other leaders. And among the stickiest is the BHAG. It is now part of the vernacular (even if it still isn't in dictionary*). I think it is on almost every buzzword bingo card.

I have a modest suggestion. BHAG needs a tweak. Sure, goals can inspire and focus people. I like thinking "big"... "hairy" is OK... and "audacious" is a great word. And yet... Citigroup had a BHAG. BHAGs can go wrong. Author Paul Carroll (Billion Dollar Lessons) points out in his blog that BHAGs can distort behavior and points to IBM. Carroll suggests "If you’re going to establish a BHAG, first think about all the ways it could lead to problems... Proceed with humility." (Can you be audacious, yet humble?) He concludes, "it's easy to get a BHAG wrong."

My advice? Entrepreneurs and BOPreneurs should set BHAWGs- Big Hairy Audacious WORTHY Goals. Make your goods good, your services serve. Use the inherent advantages of business to achieve positive impacts. Do good, and be great at it.
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*side note, evidently "bhag" is in some dictionaries as the Sanskrit root for "hot"... and is also a proper name.

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