You might have heard of a BHAG (pronounced ‘Bee-Hag”) at some point in your business journey. It’s not a new concept, though. The idea of a BHAG was first outlined in the 1994 book Built To Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras – and it’s as relevant as ever.
BHAG is an acronym for Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and it’s not like most common corporate goals. As the name suggests, it’s a moonshot – an overarching long term mission that dominates everything you do. That might sound simplistic, but it’s a surprisingly powerful tool. And it’s a tool that a growing number of businesses are adopting as they discover its effectiveness.
The Difference Between a BHAG and Corporate Goalposts
As a business owner or entrepreneur, you’re focused on progress and growth. And that means having clearly defined goals and measurable outcomes.
But what if you turned that thinking on its head? What if you went beyond KPIs and quarterly reports?
Famed French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944) understood this approach. He wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t collect wood and assign tasks, but rather teach people to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
A BHAG is visionary. It’s life-changing. Your short-term corporate goals may shift and change periodically. But a BHAG is almost timeless. It’s about the grand vision rather than the nuts-and-bolts process. It’s imaginative rather than immediate.
So what, then, makes it such a driving force? The answer might surprise you.
3 Pillars of a Durable BHAG
Tessa Clarke, co-founder of OLIO, gives an excellent summary of what constitutes a great BHAG. She recommends a starting point that she refers to as the “3 M’s”. These stand for Mission, Measurable, and Make-Believe.
Your BHAG needs to be closely aligned with your company’s mission. So, even if you’re a small player in your industry right now, your BHAG could be ‘to be the world’s best’. And you should embrace that even if it currently feels unattainable. Remember, it’s a vision – a big hairy one.
Here, you’re not looking at measuring short-term steps or goals. Instead, you’re defining the point at which you know you’ve achieved your BHAG. Not sure what that means? Here are some notable examples of BHAGs:
- The US in the 1960s: To land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.
- Microsoft: To put a computer on every desk in every home.
- Starbucks: To become the most recognized consumer brand in the world.
- Amazon: To have every book, ever printed, in any language, available in less than 60 seconds.
- World Central Kitchen: To feed those in need and prevent starvation, anywhere on the planet.
- SpaceX: To build the first permanent human settlement on Mars.
You’ll notice that none of these are tied to profit / loss reports or performance reviews!
For your BHAG to be truly powerful, it must be almost unbelievable. This is where the ‘audacious’ part becomes important. There’s an element of almost mythical ambition to a BHAG. Tell the story, give it magic and breathtaking scope, and share the vision. It also creates enormous social validation for your business.
7 Steps to Implementing Your BHAG
So, practically, where should you start? Here’s a simple checklist of key elements that should help you turn your BHAG into a very real part of your business.
Energy and excitement are incredibly important factors of a great BHAG. Your employees and teams need to share in the magic and have it uppermost in their minds at all times. It’s a grand yardstick, a compass needle, the desire to find the hidden gold marked on the map.
So, constantly reinforce it and keep it alive!
You should be able to encapsulate your BHAG in a just a few words – or even a picture. It should be as recognizable and emotive as a great logo is. And it should resonate with your audience as much as your employees.
You already know this, but it’s worth repeating. A BHAG should reinforce your core business strategy, not detract from it. And your business activities – every one of them – should point toward your BHAG.
Nobody wants mediocre ambition. Nobody’s turned on by average ideas and lukewarm enthusiasm. You want to think big here, set a jaw-dropping vision in front of people, and inspire them with it.
If your BHAG is 100% achievable, it’s a mere goal. Just another check mark on a corporate planner somewhere. You need to make it so breathtaking, so staggering, that it should feel almost risky to voice it.
Stepping Up To The Challenge
Albert Einstein said that you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. Your BHAG should galvanize your business into next-level thinking. It should force you to break out of conservative constraints and seek out growth – even if it’s uncomfortable.
Long-Term and Legacy Thinking
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras recommended a 20-25 year time frame for a BHAG – but that’s a big ask. If you want, you could turn that into a 10-year goal that gets expanded as you progress. The point here is that you should be doing something that will – in a sense – outlive you. A great BHAG is your legacy, the world-changing thing you embarked on. Be prepared to commit to a heroically long process. Remember, you only need to look at Japanese society to learn how to build a business that lasts more than 200 years!
A Deeper Purpose
The key word here is ‘purpose’. Your motivation for having a BHAG is about creating something that has a profound impact. It’s not just company-focused. It’s also focused on impacting your clients, society, and things like the environment or technological revolution.
To put it simply, you want your BHAG to change the world rather than just make a profit for you.
Why do BHAGs Work So Well?
Why, then, do BHAGs work so well to galvanize business and gain deep buy-in from employees and customers? It’s because they raise the consciousness around the deeper meaning of a company’s existence. A BHAG also forms a powerful cornerstone in creating a consistent customer experience for your brand. A great BHAG forces people to transcend perceived limitations and draw on greater reserves of energy and imagination. And they do it willingly, because there’s a sense of shared destiny.
A BHAG is the equivalent of inviting people to come on an epic journey with you. They can’t half-commit. And that means you attract people who are personally invested in the vision you’ve created.
Is it time to think about a BHAG for your business?
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