When I talk with people about setting BIG Almost Impossible Goals,
To which I say “Sort of.”
The “Hairy” in BHAGs is “scary” – like taking a big risk. Hairy, scary goals might be appropriate sometimes – but research shows that they are not effective if an organization is desperate. If you are thinking “We need to turn things around, let’s go for it and bet our future on this new idea. Failure is not an option!” Then, according to research reported in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review by Sitkin, Miller, & See (The Stretch Goal Paradox), this may not be a good idea.
This is because success rates with a “stretch” goal are improved if an organization has a winning attitude (recent successes). Desperate organizations usually do not fit this mold.
Interestingly, though, a lot of successful organizations don’t even try Almost Impossible Goals because they have gotten too used to “winning.” The idea of taking a risk and having a possible failure is too much for them. Hence, the “Paradox” in the title of the HBR article.
I have found that it is helpful if organizations can think of these Almost Impossible Goals as “Happy,” not “Hairy.” I encourage people NOT to set these big goals unless they are actually willing to fail at them. Of course you don’t want to fail. But once you can accept that failure at a wonderfully big goal is not so terrible, it gives you the freedom to really play with ideas and get creative. You can be in a “happy place” and really go for it without looking back.
If scary, hairy goals work for you, then great. But I prefer the more fun approach of Big Happy Audacious Goals (see here to learn more). Even if you don’t make it, you can be happy and proud that you pursued something you really care about to make a Mission Impact.