“I need a BHAG? Whats a BHAG? Kevin you really have lost the plot this time, what on earth are you banging on about?” I can still hear the voice of my client, but he listened and worked with his team to set one at the start of developing their business plan. Later he said it was the most exciting business plan they had ever prepared.

If you really want to go from good to great then the Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG really helps us define the vision for great. BHAG is designed to focus your mind on what you want from your business in the coming years. Many organisations set goals that are tactical and refer to the immediate weeks or months, but don’t set a vision. BHAG makes us think long-term and think radically.

The ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was first introduced by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. 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.”

The Goal needs to be big. We need to get right away from the kind of thinking that limits us. BHAG gets us away from thinking too small.

It needs to be audacious; to the outside world its achievement will be highly questionable, but within the organisation it wont be seen as impossible. We want to get people to rise to a challenge, think radically, and not just accept what happened today will happen again tomorrow, next week and next year.

If the goal is audacious, then the journey to get there is going to be a bit hairy. To me the point of a BHAG is to push the boundaries, take some risks and have fun doing it. I don’t ever want to ask “remember that opportunity, I wonder what might have happened if we had followed our gut and gone for it?” In a recent interview, talking about the BHAG driven leader, James Collins said “You’re not going to have that immediate gratification of accomplishment. You are going to be immersed in it and working and suffering toward it for a long time–the way artists suffer. You have to enjoy that sense of extended discomfort. It’s the quest, it’s the training, it’s the growth, it’s pushing yourself.”

There are some great examples of BHAG from some of today’s very successful businesses. Usually businesses that only a few years ago didn’t even exist.

Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.

According to Collins there are three tests to see if you have a good BHAG:

  • It should feel about 70% achievable if everything is done well, not 100% thats too easy, not 10% thats far too difficult.
  • It should need a quantum step in your capabilities. Because, in the end, the purpose of a BHAG is to make your organization better. It forces you to dramatically improve because otherwise you won’t be able to do it.
  • In 25 years will you know if you have achieved it? Would you be able to look at it and say, yeah, we actually did that? If you wouldn’t know if you’ve achieved it, it wouldn’t be a helpful BHAG.

Want to know more, there’s a great interview with James Collins here, or take a look at the original book, follow the link below (this will redirect automatically to your local Amazon store)

Do you have that level of vision of your business? Is it a game changer? Is it exciting enough? challenging enough? If not think again

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