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Why you need a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

January 25, 2017

Thought leaders say we should ask the team to commit to a huge challenge, a bold mission or what Jim Collins calls a BHAG (pronounced bee-hag, short for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”). A BHAG is a goal that radically changes the way an individual or a company does things. The most quoted example of a BHAG, is the USA moon mission in the 1960s. President Kennedy could have settled for an unambitious goal of “Beefing up the space program.”


Why Set BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)?

All companies have goals. Usually, these are all about incremental growth in revenue, customers or profit. They are often conservative. This is because people want to hit the goal. They want to celebrate and enjoy the rewards associated with this success.

Instead he famously proclaimed on May 25, 1961, “that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” Such a bold commitment seemed, at the time, unbelievable and unattainable. And that’s what made it so powerful for uniting the population and stimulating the USA’s economy.

A Clear and Compelling BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

Like the moon mission, or climbing Mount Everest, a true BHAG is clear and compelling. It serves to unify, focus and inspire the effort that will be required to achieve it. It creates a sense of engagement, energy and excitement that is infectious in the team.

Clarity is important. People have to get the BHAG straight away without lengthy explanations. It doesn’t need a committee to spend hours wordsmithing the goal into a meaningless, impossible-to-remember “mission statement.” Instead, the goal must be easily understood by all people and they must be able to explain it to others in simple language.

Compelling is about the tension that happens when you stretch further, go harder, and do more to reach an almost unattainable endpoint. When an expedition sets out to climb Mount Everest, it doesn’t have a multi-page statement to explain what Mount Everest is. Yet many organizations think this is required to look corporate and complex to the outside world. Think about your own organization and the team you manage. Do you, as an individual, a company, or a team, have weighty plans that are missing exciting stimulating bold goals.

Charting the Milestones

Like all goals, a BHAG has a clear finish line, so the organization and the team know when it has reached the objective. Then it’s time to celebrate. Once you’ve set the BHAG, the team should be excited (even if they secretly think that the BHAG is, overly ambitious and unattainable). You then need a way to make the target, and your progress towards it, visible to everyone. You want to maintain the excitement as well. Whiteboards and spreadsheets won’t cut it in showing real-time progress updates and continuing to motivate people to strive to do more. Gamification of the activities that contribute to the achievement of the BHAG is an excellent way to maintain the fun along the way. The key is supplementing competitive games with collaboration games that encourage the team to work together to achieve this Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You may want to chunk the BHAG into smaller milestones and set-up mini-games and competitions to maintain the team’s engagement and enthusiasm.

Celebrating the Achievement

A culture of recognition engages, energizes, and empowers employees; it can mean the difference between reaching that BHAG or falling back to earth. A culture of recognition propels people to go the extra mile and that drives productivity, performance, and profits. How do you celebrate the wins? Here is an example of how we encourage teams to celebrate their achievements.

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