Bill WhitelawMaybe Canada needs Jim Collins to help us get a grip on energy policy.

Most folks who have been to a corporate retreat know these four letters: BHAG. They stand for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

Collins, a business consultant, author and lecturer, says BHAGs are intended to help companies and organizations set stretch goals that may seem out there but on close scrutiny are achievable with the right combination of resources and market dynamics.

BHAGs aren’t aspirations for this year or next – or even five years out. They stretch across decades and even generations.

And people have had BHAGs for centuries. Collins simply put a catchy name to the notion of setting a big target and doing everything in your power to get there.

Collins says it well in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies:

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”

The first key to a BHAG is its believability. The second key is the clear pathway to it. The third key is its unifying effect.

Canada’s various provincial and federal governments like BHAGs. They make for good political theatre. But, it seems, most politicians don’t really grasp the work that goes with them. In a corporate context, BHAGs are the blend of economic pragmatism and ideal vision-setting. But cast in a political context, BHAGs are often more or less ideological freight trains thundering into a future with no guarantee the locomotive will stay on any recognizable economic tracks.

Think about what you know, as a Canadian taxpayer, about BHAGs related to the emissions reductions goals, for example, to which various governments have committed the country in the international realm.

Those goals are big, hairy and, yes, audacious in terms of their aspirational laudability. We all love the environment and we understand we need to do better by it. But those goals are not underpinned with anything average Canadians would recognize as understandable business logic that will help us navigate there. There’s no apparent plan balancing the economy and environment, no clearly articulated strategy that makes political and business sense.

Canada’s emissions reduction aspirations are but one element in an incredibly complex economic and energy transition that, if not understood by all Canadians, will end up not being a goal at all. Rather, they will become something that, at best, disappoints and, at worst, divides. This covers the gamut from regulatory uncertainty to unintended economic consequences.

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of that division. Nothing concrete is happening that is remotely likely to produce a BHAG Canadians could get behind. No firm plan that embraces the economy and environment. No clear idea that carbon pricing will push economic levers. No recognition that Canada’s key resource interests and its aspiration as a global environmental leader must be in balance.

There’s no clear finish line visible to anyone but the small group of ideologues who have commandeered the bus. Where Canada’s energy policy is headed is hardly unifying or catalyzing.

Collins told Inc. magazine in 2012 that it’s important to get people behind a BHAG to make it come to pass, rather than behind the temporal leader of the moment. That produces durability, he contended.

In Canada, the public needs to get behind a twinned environmental-economic BHAG and move beyond what passes for political leadership.

Someone should check if Collins has an up-to-date passport and is up for a visit to Canada.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Bill is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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economic environmental marriage, big hairy deal, BAHG

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