The Power of Big Hairy Audacious Goals in Business

The Power of Big Hairy Audacious Goals in Business

When we hit the mark on things that seemed impossible, it often comes down to one simple fact – we believed from the start that we could. This is the mindset at the heart of BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Think about monumental achievements like the moon landing or the birth of the internet. These were goals that at the start, seemed impossibly out of reach. But they happened.

Setting goals that are a stretch, tough, and rather frightening to even share is not a walk in the park. But if your aim is to define and achieve your core purpose, BHAGs are your ticket. Let’s get into it and help you learn how to create your own BHAG.

What Is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG, is a long-term goal that challenges your business to reach new heights. It is designed to inspire and energize both management and employees in a manner that quarterly targets and lengthy mission statements frequently fall short of achieving.

BHAG should be immediately clear and captivating, requiring minimal explanation as people grasp its essence instantly. Great BHAGs demand a combination of long-term strategic planning and a persistent sense of urgency. They prompt us to ask: What actions must we take today, with unwavering focus, as well as tomorrow and the subsequent days, to defy the odds and ultimately realize our BHAG?

History of the BHAG Concept

BHAG, pronounced bee-hag, stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals, a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. These goals may look daunting at first—almost impossible to achieve.

Consider the NASA moon mission and most President Kennedy’s renowned statement in 1961: “Our nation must dedicate itself to accomplishing the objective of landing a man on the moon and safely bringing him back to Earth before the end of this decade.” Setting that BHAG inspired the country to make the seemingly impossible, possible.

As Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, put it: “The moon mission didn’t need a committee to spend endless hours wordsmithing the goal into a verbose, meaningless, impossible-to-remember “mission statement.” No, the goal itself—the mountain to climb—was so easy to grasp, so compelling in its own right, that it could be said one hundred different ways, yet easily understood by everyone.” The outcome was, undoubtedly, a success — landing a person on the moon and return him safely to earth.

Why is a BHAG Important for Your Business?

Setting a good BHAG can work wonders for your business, creating a sense of urgency that stimulates progress, pushing past narrow thinking, and helping everyone to see the bigger picture. It can be a game-changer for your company’s strategy, even helping to redefine its mission and self-perception. But how do you know if your BHAG idea is truly great and capable of transforming your organization? Jim Collins suggests asking the following questions:

  • Does this BHAG excite you?
  • Is the BHAG easy to understand and compelling?
  • Does it tie in with the core purpose of the organization?
  • Will it inspire not just the executives, but everyone in the organization?
  • Is it a clear, big goal, not a complex, forgettable mission or vision statement?
  • Do you believe that while there is less than a 100% chance of achieving the BHAG (ideally a 50% to 70% chance), your organization can still make it if fully committed?
  • Will achieving the BHAG need a big leap in the organization’s abilities and attributes?
  • In 25 years, will you be able to tell if you’ve achieved the BHAG?

Answering ‘yes’ to all these queries assures that you have a BHAG that can propel your organization to new heights.

Types of BHAGs - Brad Sugars

Types of BHAGs

Let’s take a look at the different types of Big Hairy Audacious Goals that can ignite the spark of audacious ambition in your business.

Role Model

Role Model BHAGs are for those among us who believe in the power of emulation. You see, you don’t have to be a grand innovator to create a solid BHAG. Pushing for excellence in your own category is daunting enough. Role Model BHAGs focus on identifying what works well and setting a goal to imitate that success. This type of BHAG lets you mirror the success of a competitor or even draw inspiration from a different industry.

Common Enemy

A Common Enemy BHAG is one that sets our sights on overtaking the competition. It encourages us to aim for the stars by trying to outperform the leading companies in our industry. This is not about fostering animosity but, instead, about lighting a fire under our team to strive for more. It’s about saying, “We can do this. We can be number one.” It brings a sports-like spirit into the business world, making the journey towards the goal a thrilling race. This type of BHAG fuels our ambition, fosters our determination, and builds an intense focus on success – all vital ingredients to drive our business to the top of the pack.

Targeting

Target-oriented BHAG that pushes your business to aim high, to reach specific milestones that seem out of reach. For instance, let’s talk about scaling your company to hit the billion-dollar mark, or striving to be the top player in your industry. Yeah, it sounds huge – even a bit intimidating. But remember that it’s these audacious targets that fuel breakthroughs, innovation, and serious growth. These goals don’t just happen overnight, though. They’re the result of a long-term commitment, a ton of hard work, and a rock-solid belief in the potential of your business.

Internal Transformation

Internal Transformation BHAGs are all about rejuvenating your business from the inside out. These are typically embraced by well-established businesses that need to inject fresh energy into their operations to stay competitive. It’s about shaking things up, challenging the status quo, and stepping out of the comfort zone. It’s about changing the way we do things, improving skills, fostering a culture of innovation, and ultimately, working towards a leaner, more agile, and more responsive organization.

Let’s face it, in today’s fast-paced business world, you cannot afford to be complacent. You need to change, grow, and evolve. So, if your business has been around for a while and you’re feeling the pressure from younger, more dynamic competitors, this type of BHAG could be just what you need. It’s a wake-up call, a rallying cry, telling your people “We’ve got this!” and inspiring them to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Most Famous Examples of BHAGs

Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known BHAG examples. These ambitious goals are often the driving force behind a company’s mission, serving as a compass for their grand vision. While charting their path, organizations might not even realize they’re structuring their journey based on BHAGs.

  • Google: They aimed to ‘Organize the world’s information’. A sweeping goal that continues to shape their vast array of services.
  • Facebook: Their BHAG is to ‘Bring the world closer together’. This social media giant has indeed brought people from all corners of the globe into closer contact.
    Airbnb: They want to ‘Create a world where anyone can belong anywhere’. This goal has redefined accommodation and travel for many.
  • SpaceX: Elon Musk’s ambitious goal to ‘Make humanity multiplanetary’ underpins all efforts of this revolutionary space company.
  • Spotify: With their goal to ‘Unlock the potential of human creativity’, Spotify has transformed the way we consume music.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals - Brad Sugars

Tips on How to Create BHAGs for Your Business

Creating a Big Hairy Audacious goal for your business is a journey, not a sprint – here are some practical tips to guide you along the way.

Make It Clear and Compelling

True BHAG is clear and compelling and serve as a unifying focal point of effort, thus creating team spirit. Avoid jargon or complex terms that could confuse your team. Instead, use straightforward, everyday language to express your big, audacious goal. Make sure it’s a goal that excites your team, fires up their imagination, and inspires them to give their best each day. Remember, your BHAG isn’t just a goal; it’s a rallying cry, a call to arms. Make it clear. Make it compelling. Make it something your team can’t wait to achieve.

Assess the Risks Involved

Before you set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), it’s important to consider the risks involved. It’s great to aim high, but being reckless can lead to serious setbacks. Take a moment to think about how pursuing your goal might impact your resources, team, and current operations. Will it demand too much too quickly? Could it potentially lead to burnout? Is there a chance it could disrupt workflows or alienate customers? Reflect on these potential risks and make a plan to manage them. Don’t let fear hold you back, but proceed with informed caution. Remember, your BHAG should inspire growth and innovation, not reckless behavior.

Set a Timeframe

Every BHAG must have a timeframe. This isn’t just about picking a date out of thin air – it’s about setting a realistic yet ambitious timeline for achieving your grand goal. While your BHAG is meant to be big and audacious, your timeframe should be practical. Aiming to triple your revenue or become an industry leader in six months might sound thrilling, but is it feasible?

A well-defined timeframe gives your team a clear target to work towards and helps you monitor progress. It keeps the momentum going and ensures your BHAG is always in sight. But, don’t rush things. Give your team the time they need to do their best work. Your BHAG is a marathon, not a sprint – so set a timeframe that reflects this.

Get the Team Onboard

The journey to your BHAG is a team effort. It’s crucial everyone is in tune with your audacious goal and ready to pull together to make it a reality. Start by sharing your BHAG with the entire team, explaining why it’s important and how it’ll positively transform the business. Encourage open dialogue – let your people share their thoughts and ideas. Their engagement can translate into unparalleled determination to reach that finish line.

Aim for a Goal That Transforms the Market As Well As Your Business

As you craft your BHAG, think beyond just your business. Aim for a goal that not only transforms your organization but also reshapes the market or industry. This kind of ambition challenges the status quo and positions you as a game-changer. It’s not just about being the best in the game, but changing how the game is played.

This is the mark of truly successful companies – they don’t just adapt to the market, they redefine it. It’s a tall order, but if achieved, it fosters substantial growth and gives your business a competitive edge. It’s not merely about individual success, but fostering industry-wide innovation. This is the kind of BHAG that doesn’t just put you on the map – it redraws the map altogether.

Stretch the Comfort Zone

Setting a BHAG is all about pushing beyond your comfort zone. It’s not about setting ‘safe’ targets that you can easily achieve. It’s about aiming for something so big that it seems almost out of reach. It’s about stretching goals, challenging yourself and your team, pushing boundaries, and daring to dream big. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But that’s the whole point. It’s in the discomfort, in the uncertainty, that you find the drive and determination to innovate, to grow, to succeed.

But remember: stretch, don’t break. Aim high, but keep your goals within the realm of possibility. Push your boundaries, but not to the point of breaking. Stretching your comfort zone is about growth, not destruction. It’s about finding the balance between safe and impossible, between what you know and what you could achieve. It’s about daring to dream bigger.

Align with Core Values

Your BHAG should be a reflection of your organization’s core values. These deeply held beliefs serve as a guiding light, shaping your business decisions and driving your team’s behavior. Your BHAG is not just a lofty goal, it’s a statement about what your business stands for. So, make sure your vision is rooted in your core values. Let it be a bold declaration of your company’s identity and purpose. This alignment creates a powerful synergy that motivates your team and resonates with your customers, enhancing their faith in your brand.

Business Goals

BHAGs vs. Other Goal Setting Methodologies

When it comes to setting goals and planning for the future, there are numerous methodologies business leaders can turn to. Some might prefer the traditional SMART goals, while others might lean towards OKRs or KPIs. However, one approach that has truly stood the test of time and consistently delivered remarkable results is the BHAG. What sets it apart from the rest? Let’s take a closer look.

BHAGs vs. KPIs

Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are like the compass that guides a team or business towards its critical goals. These metrics provide a short-term view of performance and progress, helping to keep the team aligned and focused. They offer clear markers of success or areas for improvement, keeping your business on track in the short term.

In contrast, BHAG goals are the dreams that ignite long-term visions and transformations. These grand ambitions are not bound by yearly reviews or quarterly updates. BHAGs operate on a much larger scale, with a minimum timeline of a decade and sometimes stretching up to 25 years! They transcend the cycle of regular business metrics and light the path for significant, meaningful change in the long run.

BHAGs vs. OKRs

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) serve as another valuable goal-setting method, guiding teams towards measurable outcomes. The OKR framework puts forth the formula, ‘I will [objective] as measured by [key result].’ Generally, Objectives are annual goals set at the departmental or company-wide level. In contrast, Key Results – the steps taken to accomplish these objectives—can be set at the departmental, team, or individual levels and span from a month to a year.

Making steady progress towards these yearly OKRs can prime you for success and pave the way towards fulfilling your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Yet, much like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), OKRs have a narrower scope than BHAGs. After a period of a decade or two of successfully meeting OKRs, you may finally find yourself at the finish line of your BHAG. While OKRs help you achieve your short-term milestones, your BHAG acts as a beacon guiding your long-term vision and significant business transformation.

BHAGs vs. SMART Goals

SMART Goals represent yet another approach to goal-setting. The SMART framework is like your trusty guide, with each letter standing for something meaningful: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. This methodology ensures that goals are well-defined, quantifiable, within reach, grounded in reality, and have a clear timeline. You can apply the SMART methodology to any goal-setting process, providing a clear, practical pathway towards your targets.

Applying the SMART methodology to BHAGs involves ensuring your audacious goals align with all the SMART criteria. That means your BHAG should be more than just a random idea; it should have a purpose and be relevant to what you want to achieve. It should also be something you can track and measure, so you know when you’re making progress and when you’ve reached the finish line. And while BHAGs are big and ambitious, they should still be something you can realistically achieve. After all, what’s the point of dreaming big if it’s beyond your grasp? And of course, every BHAG needs a timeline, a sense of when you’ll reach that milestone.

BHAGs vs. Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is like having another powerful tool in your arsenal as a business leader. It helps define the direction of your organization for the next three to five years, providing a clear roadmap for achieving big goals and establishing focus and clarity. The beauty of a strategic plan lies in its flexibility and adaptability. It’s like a stepping stone towards your BHAG, guiding you closer to your ultimate goal.

As you accomplish the objectives laid out in your strategic plan, you can update it to bring you even closer to your BHAG. This iterative process of strategic planning allows for regular review and adjustment, ensuring that your path to your BHAG remains clear and achievable. It’s important to remember that strategic planning is not a one-time effort; instead, it’s a continuous process that evolves with your business and its changing environment.

BHAGs vs. Vision Statements

In many ways, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and vision statements are like kindred spirits. Both serve as inspirational, long-term goals that guide the direction of your company. However, the defining factor between a BHAG and a vision statement lies in the boldness of the ambition. While some vision statements may be daring and invigorating, they don’t necessarily push the boundaries like a true BHAG does.

Let’s take TED for example, renowned for their TED Talks. Their vision statement is to “spread ideas.” Although this goal is noble and impactful, it doesn’t quite reach the audacious level of a BHAG – it’s not a revolutionary concept. Yet, despite this, TED continues to create incredible content and inspire people globally on a daily basis. In essence, a company doesn’t always need a BHAG to make a significant difference. Sometimes, doing a great job and consistently meeting customer needs can be more than enough to carve out your own path to success.

Why do BHAGs Work So Well?

BHAGs, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, have a unique knack for capturing imaginations and driving unparalleled commitment within teams. Their sheer audacity and scale stir up excitement and cultivate a culture of daring that invites innovation. BHAGs create a long-term vision that maps the path to success, acting as a North Star that keeps the organization focused and oriented towards this shared aspiration. They inspire teams to pool their skills, talents, and passions to achieve what initially seemed unattainable.

BHAGs also give the organization a strong sense of purpose. They go beyond numbers and targets, connecting the business with its core values and bigger purpose. This connection motivates the team, makes work meaningful, and resonates with customers, creating a bond that goes beyond transactions. So, BHAGs work well because they’re not just goals; they’re an exciting journey towards a shared vision, driven by purpose and passion.

FAQs

What is another name for a BHAG?

A BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, doesn’t really have another name. It’s a term coined by business authors Collins and Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. However, it can be compared to a long-term, ambitious vision for the growth of a company.

What makes an effective BHAG?

An effective and competitive BHAG is one that is clear, inspiring, and aligns with the core values of your organization. It should be audacious – stretching your comfort zone and challenging the status quo. Yet, it should also be feasible, with a realistic timeframe for achievement. An effective BHAG engages your team, spurring them towards unparalleled determination and enthusiasm to make that goal a reality. Lastly, it should have the potential to not only transform your business, but also make a significant impact in your industry or market.

How to write a personal BHAG?

To write a personal BHAG, you begin by identifying your core values and passions. What drives you? What do you aspire to achieve in the long-term? Once you have a clear idea, create a bold goal that is demanding, yet realistically achievable. Your BHAG should be specific enough to guide your decisions, but flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. It should stretch your comfort zone and inspire you to reach your maximum potential.

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