Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the concept of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (or BHAG) in their 1994 book Built to Last. According to Collins and Porras:
A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort…It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People get it right away; it takes little or no explanation.
BHAGs are more than just the set objectives or goals that describe what companies hope to accomplish over the coming days, months or years. While these goals help align employees of the business to work together more effectively, often these goals are very tactical, such as “achieve 10% revenue growth in the next 3 months.”
BHAGs define visionary goals in a more strategic, in the form of a vision statement “…an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future.” According to Collins and Porras:
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.
Set correctly, BHAGs work – where it can even change the very nature of a business’ existence. And get this, I believe BHAGs work great in a branding and marketing context as well.
But what makes a good BHAG? From Collins and Porras, a good BHAG has four qualities:
- Aligned. Properly set goals can be transformational if they’re tied closely to what is most important to the organization.
- Audacious. BHAGs are a breed apart. You’re probably on to something if the first reaction to a BHAG is “impossible!” BHAGs can’t be achieved easily or quickly. They demand different thinking.
- Articulate. A good BHAG is a clear target. And it’s real. It’s not in any way a fanciful statement disconnected from the business. Kennedy’s 1961 mission to “land on the moon by the end of the decade” needs no further detail.
- Arduous. Easy goals don’t require innovation. A good BHAG does. It’s achievable, but only through different thinking, real struggle, and a dash of luck. If it’s truly impossible—as opposed to perceived as impossible—people will disengage from the process entirely.
And here’s how you create a good BHAG:
1. Conceptualize It
The first step is taking the time to think through and conceptualize a goal you can aim toward that will change your business and/or your life. Let go of constraints and let your imagination take charge; your BHAG should be overly ambitious and seem unattainable. Here are the other criteria of a BHAG to keep in mind:
- Minimum of a 10-year plan
- Compelling and exciting
This is probably the most difficult part of creating a BHAG. It can take a long time (weeks, months, even years) to identify a goal that is important enough to you to qualify it as a BHAG.
2. Test It
Now that you have your BHAG in mind, run it through a feasibility check to gauge if it’s a BHAG and really one that you can dedicate the next decade to achieving. Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- Is it long-term?
- Is it something people will understand if you share it?
- Will it require you to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone?
- Is it measurable and life changing?
- Does it create momentum?
- Does it excite and stimulate you?
3. Commit to It
Just like you do with any goal, you will need to commit to your BHAG and start forward progress immediately. You can break it down into smaller, measurable chunks, or mini-goals. And make sure you check-in on your progress regularly (I suggest monthly) to dedicate productive focus to your BHAG.
Sure, 10 years seems like an awfully long time. But if you have created a powerful BHAG, a decade is probably an aggressive timeline. Personally, I kind of like the long timeframe. Think about how busy you are now. Having a goal that you don’t anticipate achieving until way in the future gives you time to create a solid plan and approach it methodically. And you’ll need that time if your BHAG is truly one of the “unattainable.”
For more information, check out:
- “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”
- BHAGs are for People Too, The Trump Blog
- What’s Your BHAG? How to Create a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, Sitepoint
- How to Set a BHAG, American Express Open Forum
- Examples of Powerful BHAGs