Sorry that I have been offline for so long… summer is just too much fun. There are so many items that we have to address within the management architecture that fall under the heading of ‘balance’.  You know the drill: short-term performance and long-term investment, evidence-based management and common sense regarding people, serving all stakeholders, et al.  Here’s one that’s getting more attention recently: setting bold goals and focusing on small steps to achieve them.

Jim Collins popularized the term BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals), many of which cannot be justified by evidence, history, or reason. These are breakthrough goals, calling for results beyond what are predictable.  They have an unmatched impact on the energy of an organization, but only when the entire org is fully enrolled in achieving the goal.  The best way to achieve that is to engage the front line in the development of the objective.  That way, they own it from the beginning, and all people can see an outcome that is both collectively and individually better than anything they could achieve by themselves.  Absent such enrollment in a BHAG, the atmosphere quickly degenerates into ‘what’s in it for me’, and the possibilities of accomplishing a breakthrough are dramatically reduced… and so is the level of engagement.

A key factor to determine if a goal is truly a breakthrough is the acknowledgment that no one knows how to accomplish it.  That can have a negative impact in the beginning: the effort looks so big that people freeze-up and freak-out, as Stanford Professor Bob Sutton puts it.  Bob thinks a better focus is on small steps to achieve results and not the BHAG.

Here’s where that pesky duality thing comes into play: I think it’s both. The BHAG has special motivating qualities that the short horizon stuff can’t touch.  And the small steps serve to break the BHAG down into achievable objectives that create growing confidence in meeting the big deal.

Defining objectives in both bold, inspiring terms and in manageable chunks is part of creating the conditions of success, which is a fundamental management responsibility.

Have any examples where you were able to break down a BHAG into small steps? Tell us all about it.