Not All Goals Are Alike

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What’s the true purpose of setting your goals?

For most improvement goals, SMART goals work. If you want to increase your productivity by 10% or lose 20 pounds to fit into a new suit or dress, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-defined are appropriate. Getting an accountability partner to help you meet the goal will increase the likelihood of success significantly.

But some goals are designed to be bold and inspiring rather than specific and achievable.  Jim Collins and Jerry Porras noted that in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies when they coined the term “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG) to refer to a clear and compelling target that an organization tries to reach.  

Reeves and Fuller, in The Imagination Machine, drive that point in a story about Nitin Paranjpe’s bold move to increase Hindustan Unilever’s distribution of products to Indian stores. At the time, the company distributed to a million stores and was growing at a rate of 25,000 per annum. To unleash the energy and ingenuity of his company, he set the “ridiculous-sounding” goal of adding 500,000 stores in one year. The teams geotagged every village in the country and used multiple data sources to identify the opportunities for outlet expansion. 

Paranjpe set bold goals because he knew that if he started with a number, say 50,000 stores, people in the company would think it was too high and, fearing that they might fail, would negotiate a more “reasonable” number like 35,000. “But when you’re chasing 500,000, there is no fear of failure; it is replaced by the joy of attempting something that no one had attempted before.”  As a leader, he noted, it takes a bold BHAG to shift people out of their fear of failure and allow them to experience the joy of doing something pioneering. “Everyone wants to do heroic things, but safe targets do not even create the possibility of doing something heroic.

So what’s driving your set of goals? Is it fear that you might not surpass last year’s 10% increase by much and so you set 14% as your goal? Or is it to fire up the team’s creativity and imagination so they can break new grounds and end up in a place “you never imagined”. That’s what BHAGs do!

So what BHAGs will you set for 2025!