Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

What is it?

The Big Hairy Audacious Goal is a statement of Strategic Intent – the specific result the company will achieve in 10-30 years time. It is the inspiring  “Mount Everest” they will climb. It is one of the components of the company vision, as per the the Collins/Porras framework.

Big Hairy Audacious Goal - what is your Mount Everest to climb?

Key attributes of a good Big Hairy Audacious Goal are:

  • Inspiring – motivates everyone in the company
  • Be just possible – not easy, but it could be achieved if the whole company operated at the top of their game. The BHAG must be set with a realistic understanding of what the company can achieve – if it is set with bravado, it is more likely to demotivate
  • Fit with company strategy, purpose and values
  • Consistent – the BHAG will have no credibility if the business changes it every few years. A BHAG that is big enough to inspire will take a decade of extraordinary effort to deliver
  • Shared – not just created by the CEO but ownded and shared broadly across the company

Financial goals do not make good BHAGs – only the shareholders are inspired by these, to everyone else they are just numbers.

In addition to the 10+ year BHAG, the company should also identify their “Base Camp” – where do they need to be in 2 years in order to be on track for their BHAG? The company can then make specific plans to achieve this base camp.

When is it useful?

It can be a very powerful way to communicate a clear direction and level of ambition that aligns the whole company. The management team must be committed to the BHAG, or it will not only have no power, it will reduce credibility.
Don’t force it artificially – when it comes it will immediately feel right.

An Example?

An example from Starbucks is to overtake Coke as the world’s leading brand. It is a good example of fit with company strategy, purpose and values. The Starbucks BHAG is about world-class brand-building – at the heart of their strategy and values, not number of stores or revenue targets. And it will take the company performing at their best for 20 years to reach. The Story of Starbucks’ Journey to find its BHAG.

An example from Sony in the 1960’s and 70’s is to change the image of “Made in Japan” from poor quality to high quality.

A Non-profit example is John F Kennedy’s 1961 speech to Congress:

“I believe 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 the earth………We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

More recently, Volkswagen is trying to rebuild its reputation behind the audacious goal of becoming the world leader in Electric Vehicles, with 1m electric car sales by 2025. Not just a growth target, there is deep symbolism behind this to restore its reputation after the diesel emissions crisis:

  1. Real environmentally friendly, after being exposed as an environmental cheat
  2. Returning to its original purpose to make a peoples car (Volks = people; Wagen = car)

Let us hope this Big Hairy Audacious Goal succeeds.

I want to know more

Jim Collins invented the term in his great book “Built to Last”. Read it, and explore his website for more insights.

Wikipedia examples