Achieving the Impossible: How Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) Propel Success

Updated on: 24 May 2024 | 11 min read
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‘it always seems impossible until it’s done.”- Nelson Mandela

Aiming for the impossible fuels innovation pushes boundaries, and drives progress. While reaching such goals may seem daunting, the pursuit fosters creativity, resilience, and breakthroughs, propelling individuals and societies toward new heights of achievement and possibility.

At the heart of transformative organizational strategies lie Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). These are not your everyday business targets; they are the north stars that guide companies towards unprecedented success. But what exactly makes a goal a BHAG? Let’s dive into the defining characteristics and the pivotal role these goals play in business growth.

What is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

A BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is a long-term, strategic objective that is meant to be clear, compelling, and seemingly impossible to achieve at first glance. Coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their seminal work, these goals are designed to push companies beyond their comfort zones and into a realm of innovative thinking and audacious action.

Elements of a Good Big Hairy Audacious Goal

Setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is more than just dreaming big; it’s about crafting a goal that is both visionary and strategically sound. Here are the essential elements that make a BHAG truly effective and transformative:

  • 70% Achievability: A good BHAG should strike a balance between being challenging and attainable. It should feel like a stretch but not be so far-fetched that it seems impossible. This 70% threshold ensures that the goal is motivating rather than discouraging.

  • Clarity and Compelling Nature: The goal must be clear enough that anyone in the organization can understand it and be compelled by it. A BHAG should serve as a rallying point that unifies and energizes the team.

  • Capability Expansion: The goal should push the organization to expand its capabilities and innovate. This involves stepping out of comfort zones and exploring new possibilities.

  • Measurability: A well-defined finish line is crucial. The goal should have specific criteria for success, making it easy to track progress and know when it has been achieved.

  • Alignment with Company Vision: The BHAG should be deeply connected to the company’s long-term vision, reflecting its core values and purpose. This alignment ensures that the goal propels the company forward in a direction that makes sense for its overall strategy.

  • Long-term Commitment: Typically, a BHAG should be set for a period of 10 years or more. This long-term perspective allows for significant achievements that contribute to lasting change within the organization.

The Unique Nature of BHAGs

BHAGs are not just about setting high targets; they are about redefining what’s possible for an organization. They serve as a focal point for strategic planning, helping to align various efforts and initiatives towards a singular, ambitious objective. This clarity and focus are crucial for maintaining momentum over the long haul and for making the impossible seem attainable. By setting a BHAG, companies can stimulate progress and innovation, much like how SMART Goals Templates help in setting clear and measurable targets.

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Moreover, the compelling nature of BHAGs ensures that they are more than just targets; they are catalysts for team cohesion and motivation, driving employees to exceed their limits and achieve extraordinary results. In this way, BHAGs are not only about reaching a goal but about the journey and transformation that occur along the way.

The Origin and Evolution of BHAGs

The concept of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) was first introduced by business gurus Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their influential work, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. This groundbreaking idea has since evolved, becoming a cornerstone in strategic business planning and a catalyst for transformative achievements across various industries.

Collins and Porras coined the term BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to describe a long-term, almost unachievable goal set by a company to stimulate progress beyond normal expectations. The introduction of BHAGs challenged companies to think beyond conventional growth metrics and aim for a visionary, boundary-pushing objective that could redefine their future.

Evolution in Business Strategy

Over the years, the application of BHAGs has seen a significant evolution. Initially adopted by large corporations to inspire monumental projects, the concept has permeated through various levels of strategic planning across different sectors. Companies like Amazon and Google have set BHAGs that not only promise substantial market shifts but also encourage continuous innovation and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

For those looking to understand how such strategic goals fit into broader business frameworks, exploring resources like 50 Business Diagrams for Strategic Planning can provide valuable insights.

As BHAGs continue to evolve, they challenge traditional business strategies and encourage organizations to think creatively and ambitiously, ensuring their relevance in a rapidly changing business environment.

Types of BHAGs and Their Unique Characteristics

Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) are not one-size-fits-all. Understanding the different types of BHAGs can help organizations tailor their strategies to meet specific long-term objectives. Here, we explore the four distinct types of BHAGs, each with unique characteristics that influence company culture and strategic direction.

Four Types of BHAGs

  • Role Model BHAGs: These inspire organizations by setting a standard based on the achievements of leading companies. For instance, a tech startup might aim to become ‘the next Apple’ in innovation and market influence.

  • Common Enemy BHAGs: Focused on outperforming a competitor, these BHAGs galvanize teams by identifying a direct rival, such as a smaller retail chain striving to surpass a market leader.

  • Targeting BHAGs: These involve setting highly ambitious sales or market share targets, pushing the organization to achieve specific quantitative outcomes.

  • Internal Transformation BHAGs: Aimed at reinventing the company, these goals might involve a complete overhaul of internal processes or corporate culture, driving significant change from within.

Choosing the Right BHAG

Choosing the right type of BHAG for your organization is crucial. It should align with your company’s vision, culture, and long-term strategic objectives. Tools like Strategic Planning Tools can facilitate this process, helping leaders visualize and map out potential BHAGs and their impacts.

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Each type of BHAG serves a different purpose and can significantly shape the strategic direction of a company. By selecting a BHAG that resonates with the core values and ambitions of your organization, you can ensure that it acts as a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals Examples

Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) have been pivotal in propelling numerous companies towards unprecedented success. These goals are not just ambitious; they are the catalysts that drive companies to transcend ordinary expectations and achieve extraordinary results. Let’s explore some notable case studies that illustrate the power of effective BHAGs in the business world.

  • Amazon: Amazon’s BHAG to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’ has driven its expansion from a bookstore to a global e-commerce and cloud computing giant. This goal encapsulates the essence of what BHAGs are designed to achieve - transformative and industry-leading change.

  • Microsoft: With a BHAG to ‘put a computer on every desk and in every home’, Microsoft catalyzed the personal computing revolution, significantly impacting how technology is consumed globally.

  • SpaceX: SpaceX’s audacious goal to ‘enable human life on Mars’ pushes the boundaries of aerospace technology, driving innovation and capturing the world’s imagination about space travel.

  • Netflix: Netflix transformed entertainment with its BHAG to ‘lead the internet entertainment revolution’, which disrupted traditional media and changed how people consume content.

  • Uber: Uber’s BHAG to ‘make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone’ revolutionized the transportation industry by introducing the concept of on-demand ridesharing, fundamentally changing how people commute and travel in urban areas.

  • Walmart: Walmart’s BHAG to ‘become the world’s largest and most efficient retailer’ propelled it to become a retail powerhouse, reshaping the landscape of the retail industry and setting new standards for efficiency and scale.

  • Airbnb: Airbnb’s BHAG to ‘create a world where anyone can belong anywhere’ disrupted the hospitality industry by enabling individuals to monetize their extra space and providing unique travel experiences, transforming how people think about accommodation while traveling.

  • Kennedy Center: The Kennedy Center’s BHAG to ‘make the performing arts accessible to all’ aims to democratize access to cultural experiences, enriching lives and fostering a deeper appreciation for the arts across diverse communities.

  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy’s BHAG to ‘provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere’ is revolutionizing education by offering accessible, high-quality learning resources to students worldwide, regardless of socio-economic status or geographic location.

  • Spotify: Spotify’s BHAG to ‘unlock the potential of human creativity by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it’ is reshaping the music industry by empowering artists and revolutionizing how music is consumed and distributed globally.

Steps to Create and Implement Your Own Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)

Setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is more than just dreaming big; it’s about strategically aligning your organization’s aspirations with actionable steps. Here’s how you can identify, implement, and sustain a BHAG that transforms your business landscape.

Identifying Your BHAG

Start by understanding the core of what makes a goal truly audacious and aligned with your company’s long-term vision. Consider these steps:

  • Reflect on Your Company’s Core Values: Your BHAG should amplify and resonate with the foundational principles of your organization.

  • Assess Long-term Industry Trends: Look for insights on where your industry is headed and how your company can lead the charge. Tools like The Importance of Strategic Goals And How to Set Them can provide guidance.

  • Think Big, But Attainable: While a BHAG should stretch your capabilities, it must also be within the realm of possibility, given your resources and market position.

Engaging Your Team

Once your BHAG is defined, the next step is to get your entire team on board:

  • Communicate Clearly and Continuously: Use visual tools and regular meetings to keep the goal in sight and mind. Creately’s visual project management tools can be particularly effective here.

  • Build a Culture Around Your BHAG: Integrate the goal into every aspect of your business operations, from daily tasks to long-term planning.

  • Encourage Ownership: Allow team members to take personal responsibility for parts of the goal, fostering a sense of involvement and commitment.

For more detailed strategies on team engagement, consider exploring our guide on proven strategies to build trust.

Monitoring Progress and Adapting the BHAG Over Time

Setting a BHAG is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Continuous monitoring and adaptation are crucial:

  • Establish Clear Metrics: Define what success looks like at different stages of your BHAG. This clarity will help keep the team focused and motivated.

  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule periodic reviews to assess progress and make necessary adjustments. This keeps the goal relevant and achievable as external conditions change.

  • Leverage Technology: Use tools and resources like building agile teams to maintain agility in your processes, allowing you to adapt more quickly to new information or market shifts.

Difference between Big Hairy Audacious Goals and Other Goal-Setting Methods

Understanding the unique positioning of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) compared to other goal-setting frameworks is crucial for organizations aiming to harness their transformative power. Here, we explore how BHAGs contrast with company vision, KPIs, OKRs, SMART goals, and strategic planning, providing a clearer path for organizations to choose the most effective goal-setting strategy.

  • BHAGs vs. Company Vision: While a company vision provides a broad, inspirational outlook of what an organization aspires to become, BHAGs are concrete, actionable targets that drive companies towards that vision. BHAGs are highly specific and designed to be achieved within a 10 to 30-year timeframe, making them more immediate and compelling as a catalyst for action.

  • BHAGs vs. KPIs: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics used to measure the success of specific activities in real-time. Unlike BHAGs, which are long-term and transformative, KPIs are often short-term and operational. For a detailed guide on setting KPIs, refer to A Step By Step Guide to Set KPIs for Team Members

  • BHAGs vs. OKRs: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are typically set on an annual or quarterly basis and are used to measure progress towards critical goals. BHAGs, on the other hand, are much broader in scope and scale, aiming for a transformative impact over a longer period. For more on OKRs, see our OKR Templates

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  • BHAGs vs. SMART Goals: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They are usually more conservative and short-term compared to the ambitious and long-term nature of BHAGs.

  • BHAGs vs. Strategic Planning: Strategic planning involves a detailed step-by-step plan to achieve a company’s long-term objectives. BHAGs serve as a pivotal part of this plan, providing a clear and inspiring target that drives all strategic efforts.

Each of these goal-setting methods has its place in organizational strategy, but the audacious nature of BHAGs makes them particularly effective for companies looking to make significant leaps in innovation and market position. By understanding these differences, leaders can better align their strategic efforts with the most appropriate goal-setting framework.

The journey towards achieving a BHAG is as significant as the goal itself, providing a clear, compelling target that energizes teams and aligns efforts across the organization. Remember, the essence of a BHAG is to push boundaries and think beyond conventional limits. Whether it’s revolutionizing an industry or achieving what seems impossible, a BHAG sets the stage for extraordinary outcomes. By maintaining focus and fostering an environment that embraces bold, innovative thinking, your organization can not only reach but exceed its grandest ambitions.

By following these steps, your organization can not only set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal but also achieve it, transforming your business and setting a benchmark in your industry.

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Chiraag George Communication Specialist

Chiraag George is a communication specialist here at Creately. He is a marketing junkie that is fascinated by how brands occupy consumer mind space. A lover of all things tech, he writes a lot about the intersection of technology, branding and culture at large.

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