What does your Big Hairy Audacious Goal mean to your people?


Jim Collins introduced the concept of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) in his book Built To Last. He explained that successful companies have a BHAG that pushes them out of their comfort zone, and gets them to achieve things that some might think impossible. It is actually a compelling motive force.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy outlined an audacious goal that, by the end of the decade, the US would have sent a man to the moon and back, not because it was easy, but because it was difficult. On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon, fulfilling the US’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

What do BHAGs do for us?

A BHAG is not some difficult task that has not been accomplished before. If a business that is trading at $4M has a $400M BHAG, it would be outlandish and irrelevant. It is big and audacious, and it certainly is hairy, but it is not inspirational and aspirational. The US moon landing BHAG was technically out of reach in 1961, and by all intents and purposes, is quite like the $400M revenue target, but the $400M target serves no one except the company. The US moon landing serves the whole nation, and people are willing to put their lives on the line in achieving that. Therefore, a BHAG will drive people to move out of their comfort zone, will challenge people to learn more, be more and accomplish more. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard. So, a large revenue target will NEVER be a BHAG. Let’s see what will…

Components of a BHAG (compliments of Jim Collins)

1. Core ideology

The core ideology of your company or mission must be clear. You need to set out what makes you, and what drives you. Being core, it means that it is unshakeable. It is the very nature of who you and your business are. It is the unwavering belief in the attainment of that which is much bigger than you are. It is an ideology, something that is part concept, part reality. By definition, an ideology is a set of beliefs, and that means that there is a part of it that cannot be truly ascertained. Yet it drives everyone. We don’t need to know it cognitively, we need to feel it emotionally. And this is a very important element of a BHAG.

2. Envisioned future

When Kennedy commissioned the moon project, and went to Congress to ask for money, he did so with an impassioned plea for the future. That future painted the US in the forefront of scientific and technological leadership, as well as the leadership of the Western world. These came in the wake of Sputnik, and the technological superiority the Soviets displayed over the US. The moon mission was therefore not simply about putting a man on the moon, it was about grabbing the mantle of technological superiority from the Soviets; it was about national pride. That was the envisioned future!

So take a look at your vision; does it have these two key elements? Do your people care about it? Do they live it? If not, perhaps it is time you went back to identify what makes you, what drives you, and build your BHAG on the back of these two key components.

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