The REAL reason for BHAGs is NOT to achieve them!

by Stacey Barr |

Big hairy audacious goals are scary. So are stretch targets. So scary that most of the time we avoid them or ignore them. What we don’t realise is, that by avoiding them because we can’t guarantee we will meet them, we end up guaranteeing a fate worse than failure.

Any big target is going to be scary. It’s natural to feel uneasy and apprehensive about something you don’t know how to achieve yet. And that’s the nature of big targets – you could define them as shifts or changes that we don’t really know how to make; changes that we can’t make with what we already know and do.

Without question, we have to move outside of our comfort zone when we pursue big targets, either as individuals or teams or organisations. And outside of our comfort zone is where we feel fear. Not of death or injury of course, but of failure.

For some, the failure of falling short of a big target brings embarrassment, frustration, loss of face or loss of respect, disappointment, reinforcement of an already low self esteem. And these bad feelings are so immediately uncomfortable that they fill up our field of vision and make it easy to avoid those big targets. We take refuge behind “achievable targets” and our excuses for why targets should be achievable.

And this ‘psychosis’ blinds us to the truth about big targets.

What really happens when we fail to achieve a big target is this: we in fact end up achieving far more than we would otherwise have achieved if we’d chosen a safe and achievable target. Safe and achievable targets don’t stretch us, they don’t ask us to become more than we currently are. They don’t ask us to think smarter, or choose more wisely or act more deliberately. They don’t ask us to question our approaches, to look beyond our current knowledge, to test our assumptions. The most that an achievable target can get you to do is to work harder. Is that really something to look forward to and feel proud of?

The beautiful treasure in pursuing big goals is who we need to become to achieve them. Why should we expect to get a profoundly better result by staying the same, by thinking and deciding and acting the same? We need to shift ourselves before we can shift our performance measures.

BHAGs, stretch targets and any other kind of big goals demand that we simultaneously think about the result we’re aiming for and the adventure of getting there. Simultaneously we must be results-oriented and present in the moment; aligning our thoughts and choices and actions in the here-and-now with our destination in the future.

Don’t get caught up measurning how far you fall short of your big targets – measure how far they have pulled you forward.


Go for a walk outside to separate yourself from the reminders of everything that stays the same, and let your mind wander to explore what it would be like to achieve a really big goal that’s important to you or your team or your business. If it’s a team goal or business goal, take a colleague or two with you for dialogue. Set a stretch target for that goal, and then turn your attention to who you need to become to make that stretch target a reality.

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  1. Stacey Barr says:

    I just watched one of the latest TED talks, and thought how beautifully it related to this topic of fear about big goals. Actually it relates more to fear than to goals, but if you watch it, I reckon you’ll feel inspired about how to pursue stretch targets and BHAGs by using your fear as a tool, rather than as an excuse.

  2. Chris McLoon says:

    “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” … whew, that’s a relief. Until I read further, I thought this was Better Homes and Gardens, and I was struggling with the upcoming conversation with my wife to explain why Stacey Barr would suggest that I didn’t have to mow the lawn…..

  3. Marty Klubeck says:

    “Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” (Brian Litrell and Les Brown). Nice kick off to the new year, thanks. But, being a measurement person (like you), I usually look at it slightly differently.

    1. when working on a BHAG, I see if it’s truly a vision. If it is or not, the next step is to ensure it’s something you really want to achieve! If it is, the next step is to break that BHAG into edible bites.
    2. if you have a BHAG and broken it down into edible bites, you also have milestones along the way. These sub-goals many times can define levels of success to celebrate even if you don’t fully achieve the BHAG.
    3. Have a range – vs. a target. In the case of your 100 participants, that was probably the upper end of your satisfaction range. If you got 100, you’d be ecstatic! I’m sure there was a lower range, one if you got less than you’d feel like it was a failure. It was obviously less than 70, since you were very happy with 70. This allows you to celebrate different levels of success and have a “target” for being extremely happy.
    4. Track progress. Like when we do fundraising for a good cause. I love the thermometer visual…where you keep filling up the visual, working your way up to the “top” goal. Using your class again, you could have had increments of 10 and as people registered kept marking them off. How much fun it would have been when you reached 20, then 30, 40, 50 and finally 70! True you didn’t top off the chart (at 100), but you would continuously build joy and confidence as you climbed the chart.

    So, I totally agree – we can’t be afraid to dream big! And success isn’t measured soley in reaching the “target” – we have to measure levels of success along the way.

    “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” (Wayne Gretsky)

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