“… change can be implemented effectively by focusing on minimal, concrete goals, going slowly, and proceeding step by step, rather than strongly promoting vast and vague targets with whose desirability nobody would take issue, but whose attainability is a different question altogether.” – Watzlawick ‘Change’
Sitting in a meeting room with 12 men wearing suits. We sat for over 6 hours listening, nodding, pretending to take notes showing formal agreement. We agreed upon 3 what they forced me to call BHAGs or Big Hairy Audacious Goals (Collins 1994). I wrote these BHAGs on the flip-chart, checked for disagreement & asked when we are going to meet again + what each person will accomplish between now & the next meeting.
SILENCE awkward-ness & shuffling of papers.
We sat in silence. Someone said, “Let’s sit on this for a week then determine some action steps.” My response, “No we can decide who is doing what + make some small steps this week.” Another person, “We are all busy, let’s take the small step of thinking about the goals and sharing more ideas next week.” … I decided to let the team do that.
We met the following week – no one did anything.
The project stalled & the BHAGs went into the trash like most hairballs.
I’m to blame for allowing the team to get away; they are to blame for being comfortable talking with no action, we both are to blame for not setting smaller, concrete objectives for our meeting.
Unfortunately, this happens too often.
It is a paradoxical problem:
- A team is bonded through an ennobling goal (BHAG)
- A team gets lost in translating that BHAG into action & being prepared for the changes & challenges that naturally occur
- When a problem is faced it may be easier or better or worse to do nothing
Setting vague desirable goals in abstraction works until you have to figure out what to do to achieve the goals