Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Do You Have a BHAG?

Do you have a BHAG? Don't laugh! This is not a disease or a psychological condition.

BHAG may or may not be one of the more common acronyms heard these days in the world of business. I first read it in one of my business classes at Chapman University. Then I heard it from speakers at the Chapman University's Distinguished Speaker series. I believe it was either Rob Ukropina, the founder of OverniteExpress, or Jim Mazzo, CEO of Abbott Medical Optics, who uttered the acronym at one such event.

BHAG stands for "big hairy a## goal." It's the kind of goal that some may describe as astonishing, almost impossible to attain. It's often so absurd that it shocks people who hear it. Some may even laugh from the surprise. Nevertheless, the person stating the BHAG is committing to achieve it.

Let me give you a case in point of a BHAG, one I committed to recently.

We've all read the news and heard that mid to senior level executives can spend an average of six to nine months by some estimates, or nine to twelve months by others, in transition. That's a long time. That's what the masses tell you. Mind you, this is the "average." So, assuming a normal distribution curve applies here, that means there are outliers, those people who take longer and shorter...much shorter than the average.

As I thought about this after a conversation with a friend, I realized something. I'm not average. Anyone that thinks I am, doesn't quite understand me. Likely, I've done a poor job of showing them otherwise. In either case, I'm not average. I was the first in my family to finish college, even though I was the youngest in my family...not average. I attended UC Berkeley for my first degree, not an average university. Not satisfied with my original intent to pursue law, I went back to school at UC Irvine for a second degree, this time in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, neither are average degrees with general knowledge.

After spending the next decade in the business world, I decided to sharpen my business acumen by attending a business school. Unsatisfied with being average, I, along with three others, entered a business plan competition at Chapman University and won, then went to compete internationally, making it to the last round of elimination. Once again, not average. I graduated business school in the top 90th percentile, far from average.

There's nothing average about me.

So, why would I want to now fall into the "average transition time" category? I don't. So, I set my BHAG. I will be employed in Orange County working for a health care organization by September 14, 2009, spending only four months in transition! This is not a "I wish" I will be employed or that "I hope" I'll be employed. I KNOW I'll be employed, in the same way that I KNOW it is now 9:50 PM on a Tuesday evening as I write these words. I can feel it in my bones. I say this same statement when I go to sleep and wake in the morning. I have absolutely no doubt of it.

This is not just big and hairy, it sounds impossible to some folks. I've seen people's expression when I tell them of my BHAG. Every time it's the same: people give me a pause. I feel the words people don't want to utter, "are you crazy?" They've likely bought into what the media tells them about the averages, but I know better. I will take less than four months from my unemployment to find my next role.

I firmly believe that without setting such ostentatious goals we're like travellers with no destination. We may end up somewhere, but it'll likely not be what we're looking for nor anything we'll be happy with. With my BHAG clearly set and specifically defined, I can cut through a lot of the noise, the offers to work as a contractor in the auto industry, the full time position available in a VAR company, and take a shortcut to my destiny.

Mind you, this is a personal BHAG. Why can't we set a BHAG for our own companies, divisions, employers? Let's say you're a sales VP. Your company's average annual revenue growth over the past 5 years has been about 15%. We're now in a recession and everyone around you, including your superiors, are happy with flat growth. Should you be? No!!! Take the lead and set this year's sales revenues to increase by 25%!

Sounds absurd? Good. That's exactly the reaction you want initially. Then make all of your sales staff believe they can achieve it by giving them higher than norm incentives, the best CRM solution you can afford...then, get out of their way.

Make them BELIEVE they can achieve this goal, the same way they believe the sun will come up tomorrow morning, and then see how they'll surpass your BHAG. You may think 25% in a regular year's great, right? Fine, but you're setting a BHAG. May be you don't like to increase the incentive plan, but what would you loose if you did and your people achieved this goal? You will have achieved what others term as the "impossible," and, as a result, you'll cement your way as a visionary and a true leader who knows how to inspire and lead the march out of this over-stated and over-staid recession.

So, what are you waiting for? Set your mind to it, figure out your BHAG, believe you can achieve it, so much so that you already see that you have, and then announce it to the world.

-- Arash Sayadi