Big Dreams and SMART Goals

Above the Clouds

Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) differentiate stellar companies, says Jim Collins in his timeless classic, Good to Great. They’re also the things that drive business marketers nuts.

How can a big dream become attainable and time bound?

In Welcome to the Fifth Estate we talk about SMART goals (chapter authored by Kami Huyse), and in Marketing in the Round we add the ER (evaluate and reevaluate) to discuss SMARTER goals (brought to the conversation by co-author Gini Dietrich). SMART/ER Goals focus on Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound objectives.

BHAGs and SMART goals don’t have to conflict with each other. From the strategist’s perspective, far from it.

Great companies do incredible things. They don’t just innovate, they also dominate markets AND achieve fantastic measurable outcomes.

One of my favorite leaders in this sense is Turnaround King Alan Mullaly, who mandated BHAGs for both Boeing with the Dreamliner 777, and Ford in making it a viable American car company again. He put forth big dreams, and demanded measurable progress towards those goals.

Do you think lead executives let a measurement pro tell them no? Far from it, they tell the measurement pro to build key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate whether or not they are on track to achieve the big goal. It’s part of the strategy.


Anna Chakvetadze Serves

Let me give you a personal example. In the next five years, I want to run and entire or a component of a communications program for a major sport championship event. Some how, some way whether it’s the World Cup, the Olympics, a World Series, etc. this is my goal.

How do I get there? And is this even attainable given my professional history?

I think it is, but credibility remains the biggest issue. Though I have worked with several major consumer brands, and as a consultant lobbied to bring Major League Baseball to Washington, DC, helped White & Partners win their initial campaign with the rebranded Washington Nationals, and assisted the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation in co-marketing with Give to the Max Day, my sports marketing track record remains thin.

So I need to get develop a portfolio of sports marketing efforts, even if its through third parties such as consumer brands or cause marketing. To do that I need to build relationships.

My work with Human Equity is one vehicle for that. Attending sports marketing conferences over the next year is another. Finally, I will start participating in more sports marketing conversations online via social media.

In all my SMARTER Goal to help me attain this dream, I’d like to develop 10 legitimate contacts with major sports brands in the next calendar year, and work on at least two sports marketing campaigns in that period.

I will evaluate progress each quarter and make course corrections as necessary. I may even pull the plug if progress against my KPIs looks doubtful.

Notice that these three actions and the corresponding SMARTER goals of 10 and 2 within a year don’t involve a major championship. What they do is put me in position to achieve my BHAG.

What do you think? Can big dreams and SMART/ER goals co-exist?


  • Hi Geoff!

    I’m a dreamer and I think this is why I enjoy my career so much at Cision. “Dreamer” has a bit of a negative connotation – someone/something with their head in the clouds – but here, we’re encouraged to think outside the box, think BIG and strategically. It is the type of environment which allows big dreams and SMART/ER goals to co-exist, and I think that kind of spirit allows for people to innovate, stay inspired and enjoy their work.

    Your outline of offsetting BHAGs with SMART/ER strategies and KPIs seems like the perfect marriage. A BHAG might seem like a great idea until the KPIs show otherwise, and then, like you mentioned, it is time to move on.

    It’s nice to see that there are other dreamers out there who know it’s OK to dream, as long as you don’t do so with your heads in the cloud :)

    Hope you have a great day, and best of luck with your KPIs in the year ahead! If it’s any consolation, we think you’ll achieve your goal (and it takes a lot of courage to outline it for other people!).


    • There’s nothing wrong with dreams, in my opinion. It’s what life is all about. We just have to keep our feet on the ground!

      I think people who dismiss dreams are the ones who have resigned. How can you make anything great happen if you don’t have a vision? I’ve done so much already that many people wish they had done — Masters degree, authored books, sold a business, etc. — and its because I had dreams. And then I worked my butt off to make them happen.

      Great comment, Lisa, and thank you for your encouragement!

      • You’re welcome, Geoff! It’s good to see another “dreamer” out there who is accomplishing goals one KPI at a time :) We look forward to seeing the moves you make! Have a great day!

  • Yes! And when you need a seasoned TV sports broadcaster, who’s been immersed in the sporting world all her life, has Olympics experience, I’m your gal! Seriously, I’d love to share thoughts on this, your SMART/ER-big-dream-BHAG. I got jazzed just reading about it:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Definitely! Smarter goals as steps to the BHAG – love it! Thanks for sharing – I agree with Cision, its always helpful to know others are dreaming too. Good luck with your BHAG!

    • Thank you! I just booked a sports marketing conference after publishing. You had to apply to be let in!!! Don’t they know who I am, sheesh.

      (yes, that was a joke).

  • Get out! You worked with Donald and crew over at White & Partners?!?!? They were a client of mine from my account management days with Jupiterimages. Small world.

    • Oh yeah, when I first launched Livingston I worked for them as a consultant. Small world indeed!

  • If a big dream can be achieved without SMART goals, is it really all that big? Sounds like dreaming of another beer out of the refrigerator to me.

    This is something I’ve actually attempted to re-boot for myself recently. I’ve had a would-be race car build in progress since 2004. It’s still not done. In fact, it’s still not even driveable.

    I brainstormed my entire excuse list; every must-have and nice-to-have, organized them, sorted them, categorized them by cost, and ordered them first-ish to last-ish. Each week, I set myself a short list of specific tasks I can accomplish.

    Goals are the steps on the stairway to achievement. They are how you know you’re making progress. If you don’t need to measure progress, your goal is pretty weak.

    If you’re up for a challenge, the United States has a very grassroots rally racing scene which could really use better marketing. It’s not all Subarus, energy drinks, black socks, and flatbrims. Just throwing that out there. We don’t have a major sporting event (X-Games doesn’t really count, imo.)

    • Well, if you guys are looking to hire a consultant, definitely contact me! X-Games don’t count, agreed.

      I agree, you need to celebrate small steps to get to the big steps. They go hand in hand, in my opinion! I like the lists that you use, I should do more of those.

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