BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

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A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) forces a company or an organization to think big and create a plan for long-term success. It sets a huge goal that drives progress forward, defines a vision for the future, and gets everyone working toward achieving it.

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What is a BHAG?

A BHAG is a huge, long-term target or goal that energizes an organization and focuses its people, rallying them to a common cause and leading them through a process of transformation.

The term was originally coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, first published in 1994. Collins says, “The power of the BHAG is that it gets you out of thinking too small. A great BHAG changes the time frame and simultaneously creates a sense of urgency. ”

A true BHAG requires a long-term commitment and cannot be achieved in three or five years. Plan on a minimum of ten years to accomplish a BHAG, possibly even two or three decades. Make sure your  BHAG is doable, however—not a long shot or pipedream. It should, at a minimum, have a 50% chance of being achieved.

But because it is so big, hairy, and audacious, it can really energize everyone in an organization. “You look at it and say, ‘Oh my goodness, if we’re going to bring the world into the jet age or transform education or put a computer on every desk, then we have to get to work today with a level of intensity that is unrelenting,’” adds Collins.

An example of a BHAG is President Kennedy’s 1961 declaration: “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.” Of course, this national commitment resulted in the historic moon landing in 1969.

Other prominent BHAGs include:

There are four broad categories of BHAG:

A great BHAG is as the name suggests:

How to create your own BHAG:

Creating your own BHAG requires some soul-searching. The first question to ask is what your organization is passionate about. For the organization members to fully embrace a BHAG, it needs to speak to their hearts and minds.

Also ask what you have the potential of doing better than anyone else in your field. You’re not the best in the world at this yet, but you could get there someday. It’s important to aim high, or it’s not worth the long-term commitment.

And then you should look at the one economic factor that would have the greatest impact on your business if improved. Collins asks in his book Good to Great, “If you could pick one and only one ratio—profit per X—to systematically increase over time, what X would have the greatest and most sustainable impact on your economic engine?”

Keep in mind that the BHAG must be:

As you contemplate this process, you’ll need to create a vision of what your company will look like once it has achieved its BHAG many years down the road. Define your BHAG goals so that they’re clear. Clarity is important for creating a realistic roadmap and helping you outline concrete measures for what success looks like.

Finally, your organization must pull together and fully commit to achieving the BHAG, starting right away. While ten years is a long way off, a BHAG requires hard work and full attention. The long-term aspirations need to garner immediate focus and become the driving influence in your annual and 3-to-5-year plans.

Why is a BHAG important for your business?

Committing your business to a BHAG can create a sense of urgency that gets things done, eliminates narrow thinking, and encourages people to see the bigger picture. It can also influence a company’s strategy and help redefine its mission and how it sees itself. To help you decide whether you have a truly great BHAG idea, which will do wonders for your organization, Collins says you need to be able to answer “yes” to all the following questions:

Questions to ask yourself while making your own BHAG.

Because a BHAG requires such a substantial resource commitment, it’s important to ask  certain questions to ensure you’re on the right path with your BHAG goals. Your questions might include:

If you ask the right questions of a BHAG and see your plan through to fruition, the eventual payoff could be the most transformative thing to ever happen to your company—until you set your next BHAG, that is.