A Mechanism To Turn BHAGs Into A Reality


How can we turn our big goals into a plan that actually delivers results? How often have we set big goals for the upcoming year, or perhaps for the next 5 or 10 years, only to see them unachieved? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you are familiar with principles of Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Collins, along with a whole line of management gurus throughout the years, has rightly asserted the importance of big goals to help drive the organization. BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) put a finish line out in front of our team, hopefully rallying the troops of our cleaning company. But how many of us actually hit our BHAGs? What causes us to regularly miss these targets? Trust me, you aren’t the only one who experiences failure to achieve big goals.

In a 1999 Harvard Business Review article, Jim Collins addresses this problem by proposing that you need a catalytic mechanism (fancy phrase, right?). Most of us, once we establish a big goal, seek to align the whole organization to get everyone moving in the right direction. This is good as far as it goes, but often will create bureaucracy, slowing down progress. What you need is a mechanism that will set up a chain reaction throughout the organization, pushing it toward the BHAG.

Collins argues that such a mechanism will have the following characteristics:

  • Produce desired results in unpredictable ways

  • Distribute power for the benefit of the overall system, often to the great discomfort of those who traditionally hold power

  • A sharp set of teeth

  • Attracts the right people and ejects viruses

  • Produces an ongoing effect

Here are a couple of examples of how this looked in the real world.

At 3M, they had a vision for an ongoing stream of new and innovative products. To accomplish this, they instituted the 15% rule. This rule allowed all employees to spend 15% of their time on any research project they wanted. Complete freedom for the employee to research whatever suited his/her fancy. Thanks to this initiative, we now have Post-It notes. Another example of the catalytic mechanism is Granite Rock, a sand and gravel company. Their BHAG was to have the best customer service in the industry, hands down. They instituted a short pay system. They gave their customers complete freedom to short pay the invoices (whatever amount they saw fit) if they were not completely happy with the service.

Let’s now consider you janitorial company and the BHAGs you have in mind. What mechanism could you put in place that might infuse the organization with life? As you probably noticed from the two examples given above, such a mechanism may make you cringe. Think of how much control you are giving up! Think of the risk! But you need a mechanism that fits the five criteria listed by Collins, something to shake people into action, yourself included.

What might that be in your cleaning company? You know your BHAG and only you can create the mechanism. Don’t be content with not hitting your big goals year after year. Do something different, even if it sounds risky.

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