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How to Create a BHAG That Will Motivate Your Team and Drive Innovation

The ‘Dean of Personal Development’, Earl Nightingale, earned his name through the excellent advice he gave out in speeches, in his books, and on the radio. He knew how to help people succeed, and he knew that, without a goal, individuals would rarely be able to achieve this success. And this rule is

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
How to Create a BHAG That Will Motivate Your Team and Drive Innovation

The ‘Dean of Personal Development', Earl Nightingale, earned his name through the excellent advice he gave out in speeches, in his books, and on the radio. He knew how to help people succeed, and he knew that, without a goal, individuals would rarely be able to achieve this success. And this rule is no different for organizations that want to succeed. In fact, businesses that would like to lead their industry don't just need any goal, they need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a BHAG. To create this type of goal, though, a company needs to abide by a few rules. The following provides the essential steps to help organizations of any size create a BHAG.

What Makes A Great BHAG?

The creators of the BHAG, James Collins and Jerry Porras, laid out four qualities that every great goal needs.

First and foremost, the goal needs to be arduous, but not overly arduous. If a goal is perceived as challenging, it engages people. If it is actually impossible, individuals disconnect. And when a goal is easy, innovation won't happen because it isn't needed. The perfect BHAG necessitates a struggle and alternative thinking.

Secondly, a great BHAG is articulate. A goal shouldn't include frilly, intangible language. When you say it, people should know exactly what you are talking about. The target should be clear, real, and require no additional details. When JFK set the goal of landing on the moon by the end of the decade, there was no confusion about what he meant.

Next, a true BHAG embodies the ‘A' in its name; it is audacious. People's first reaction should be that it's impossible. It should require them to change their thinking. It should demand that people envision a different future. A great BHAG is often hard to swallow because everyone knows it will be an uphill battle and that it will require incredible patience, creativity, and hard work. A BHAG that does this will shake up an industry, and that is exactly what you’re going for.

Finally, a BHAG must be aligned with your existing goals. An organization's BHAG shouldn't just aim to do something audacious or innovative. Companies need to design their goal around what is already most important to them. A workforce will find it difficult to make a jump from their organization's historical vision to some goal that is totally misaligned. Yes, organizational leadership needs to be fearless when setting the BHAG, but they also need to understand limitations when it comes to motivating their team.

Communicating The BHAG To Your Team

Getting your team onboard with your BHAG is crucial. If the workforce isn't excited about it, you'll never achieve it. You need them and their creativity to achieve the innovation you crave. The first time you communicate the BHAG to your team, it needs to be well thought out.

You need to eloquently paint the picture of the goal. Tell your team the story of how you decided on the BHAG, and share your vision for the company when the BHAG is achieved. There needs to be an emotional call that impacts them on a deeper level.

You also need to ensure that the BHAG is always at the top of your employees’ minds. When you send out emails to the team, have it at the top of the email in italics. Put up posters around the workspace. Create a video that shows the vision of the BHAG. Everyone should know that everything they do is in an effort to achieve this BHAG.

But most importantly, remember, you have created the what; you need to let your team create the how. As soon as they are involved and feel needed and wanted, they will become passionate about the project and driving it forward. This means you absolutely have to avoid micromanagement. Allow failure, encourage suggestions, and be open to doing things differently.

Developing The BHAG

Creating a BHAG requires careful consideration and planning. It's very rarely a lightbulb idea that just goes off in your head in the middle of the night. It needs to be agreed upon by the entire leadership team. It needs to be carefully considered and developed.

There are three main steps that every BHAG needs to go through to ensure that it's an appropriate goal:

  1. Ideation: This is where your imagination gets to run wild. Be ambitious and reach for the unattainable. Think about what your industry needs and how it could be improved. Don't think one year down the line, think at least 10 years ahead. Make sure it compels and excites you to get into action. Don't rush this process. It might only take an afternoon, but it might also take six months.
  2. Feasibility: It's not time to gauge how possible the BHAG is. You and your organization are going to throw yourselves towards this goal for the next decade, so you need to make sure it's worth it.

    Think about whether it will change things in the long-term in a measurable and meaningful way. Consider whether it is something others will understand and embrace; you need your team behind you. Make sure it will push you out of your comfort zone and create momentum for innovation. Most importantly, figure out if it is absolutely impossible. But before you declare it impossible, make an effort to come up with solutions to the road blocks.
  3. Share and Dissect: After you've figured out the wording, share it with your team. Get their feedback. Ask for their help in figuring out the how. Work with them to dissect the goal and break it into small, more feasible chunks. Then, get to work!

To learn more about how the law of the BHAG can help establish you as a leader in your industry, check out how I and my team can help.


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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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