Creative Corner: Driving Energy Change

Chuck Maniscalco, vice president of strategic initiatives

The job of a leader is to drive change, sometimes dramatic change. But, what is the key to successfully doing so? To answer, I'll borrow from a great thinker (Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don't"), and add a bit of my own perspective.

Collins talks about having a BHAG (Big Harry Audacious Goal) as a necessary requirement for driving change at the company or institutional level. But, too many people create a BHAG and then hope that somehow they'll achieve it. They've missed the more important component of driving change. What is that? It's a vivid description.

Let's start with a famous BHAG. John F. Kennedy, in a 1961 speech to Congress, said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

You all know the end of this story. In this case, the BHAG was inspiring, challenging but possible, and forced people to think differently about what was needed to reach toward this big goal.

Here's another BHAG, from our own state: "Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 baseline levels by 75 percent by 2050."

In the three years since this goal was established, we have not only missed the annual goals needed to reach this big number, but the gap between the goal and the reality has increased each year. In this case, the BHAG is not so much inspiring as it is daunting, and doesn't look, at this point, like it is possible.

Back to Jim Collins. If you dig down, you see that Collins considers a BHAG as not the end in and of itself, but a means toward a larger end. Actually, he considers a BHAG to be one of two key elements needed to reach toward that end. Here's his formula:

BHAG + Vivid Description = Envisioned Future

Two things are important. One is that it is an envisioned future that is the real point. The second is that the combination of a BHAG and a vivid description is needed to make that future state inspiring versus daunting.

Collins actually suggests writing a magazine article 20 years into the future to capture this vivid description, so that the BHAG begins to become challenging but possible, and to point to what is needed to achieve it. Without a vivid description, BHAGS can be demotivating rather than inspiring. Here is a current example.

Champlain College has had a long-standing goal: Be the finest small, professionally and globally focused college in the United States. BHAG, indeed! But, we recently created our own version of a vivid description, in the form of a Manifesto. Here is a brief excerpt:

A radically pragmatic education. It's relevant today, and it's years ahead of its time. It fuels initiative. It has purpose. It prepares students in a unique way so they're ready for work, ready for life, ready for anything. Without it you're running in place. With it you're sprinting into the future...

The Champlain Manifesto goes on for a few more paragraphs, and continues to paint a picture of what this institution looks and feels like when we get closer to our BHAG (search for Champlain 2020 on the web and you can see more of it). 

Back to Vermont's greenhouse gas reduction goals. The statute has this language in it: "In order to increase the likelihood of the state meeting the goals...", "If practicable using reasonable efforts...", and "...wherever possible..."

I realize that it is a state statute and not a vivid description, but I think this whole effort is begging for some inspiration to compel all of us to reach toward this noble goal.

This piece is via Burlington Free Press. The article was published on August 29.

For more of Chuck Maniscalco's observations, forecasts, and musings about the rapidly changing world in which we live and work, visit his blog, Future of Work.