By Robbert van Os
Posted on 2023-03-23T00:00:00.000Z

BHAGs, what they are and why they matter

Learn how setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) can inspire and energize your team to achieve something extraordinary in the long-term.

In the business world, setting goals is essential for success. However, not all goals are created equal. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a long-term, ambitious target that inspires and energizes a company's employees to achieve something extraordinary.

Coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, a BHAG is a clear, compelling objective that can take years to accomplish.

Understanding BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)

BHAGs are a tool for motivating employees to work towards a shared, long-term objective that is both action-oriented and exciting. A BHAG should be challenging but achievable, with a reasonable chance of success. To qualify as a true BHAG, it must answer questions like:

  • Does it stimulate forward progress?
  • Does it create momentum?
  • Does it get people going?
  • Does it get people's juices flowing?
  • Do they find it stimulating, exciting, or adventurous?
  • Are they willing to throw their creative talents and human energies into it?

By using this method to determine the potential of your goal, you can validate whether it is a true BHAG that will excite and motivate your team to achieve great things.

Why a big hairy audacious goal can be useful?

A big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG, is a long-term goal that is so compelling and exciting that it inspires and energizes everyone in a company to work together towards a shared objective. BHAGs are different from quarterly targets and lengthy mission statements because they focus on the bigger picture and provide a clear direction for a company's long-term growth. In short, a well-thought-out BHAG is a cornerstone for tremendous achievement that shifts a company's focus towards a grander, inspiring vision.

Four main categories of BHAGs are:

  1. Role Model: Companies in this category seek to emulate the success of a well-known company, such as becoming the "Apple" of their industry.
  2. Common Enemy: Companies in this category focus on overtaking the competition, with a BHAG that aims to beat the top companies in their industry.
  3. Targeting: Companies in this category aim to achieve specific objectives, such as becoming a billion-dollar company or ranking as the industry leader.
  4. Internal Transformation: Companies in this category seek to revitalize their people and their business to remain competitive, with a BHAG that focuses on internal growth and transformation.

What are some notable BHAGs?

BHAGs have been instrumental in motivating companies to achieve incredible results, and some of the most notable and iconic BHAGs have become part of history. One such example is President Kennedy's famous declaration in 1961 to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. This BHAG resulted in the historic moon landing in 1969.

Today, companies like Facebook and Google have set their own BHAGs, such as Meta's "make the world more open and connected" mantra and Google's goal to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." These BHAGs have inspired their employees and transformed these companies into industry leaders.

BHAG Examples

BHAGs are not just for large, established corporations. Small and mid-sized companies can also benefit from setting BHAGs. Here are some additional examples of well-known companies with BHAGs:

  • Tesla's BHAG is to "accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
  • Airbnb's BHAG is to "create a world where anyone can belong anywhere."
  • Amazon's BHAG is to become "Earth's most customer-centric company."
  • Microsoft's BHAG is to "empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
  • Canva's is to "Enable 3 billion people around the world to become professional designers by 2030."
  • Patagonia is to "Become a carbon-neutral company by 2025."

BHAGs vs Corporate Vision

When it comes to setting goals, there are two main types: corporate visions and BHAGs. While corporate visions tend to be more reasonable and achievable, BHAGs are bold, daring, and akin to moonshots. BHAGs may have a higher chance of failure, but they have the potential to be truly groundbreaking if successful. In other words, BHAGs are the ultimate risk-taker's goal. By setting a BHAG, companies can push themselves to achieve greatness and make a lasting impact in their industry.

Visionary companies formulate a core ideology/value that is based on two parts; to stimulate progress and the preserver the core. BHAGs are developed to stimulate progress within the organization.

The Bottom Line

A BHAG, also known as a bee-hag, is a grand-scale goal that is bold, high-stakes, and somewhat risky. It was first introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, business school professors, in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies in the mid-1990s. The primary purpose of a BHAG is to stimulate innovation, creativity, and progress within organizations. By setting a BHAG, companies can push themselves to achieve something extraordinary and inspire their employees to rally behind a common, exciting objective.