What Is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?

A big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG, is a clear and compelling target for an organization to strive for. The term was coined in the book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. A BHAG—pronounced “bee hag”—is a long-term goal that everyone in a company can understand and rally behind. BHAGs are meant to excite and energize people in a way that quarterly targets and lengthy missions statements often fail to.

The litmus test of a true BHAG is how it answers 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, adventurous?
  • Are they willing to throw their creative talents and human energies into it?

If the answers to these questions trend toward the affirmative, you may have a potential BHAG.

Key Takeaways

  • A BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a compelling, long-term goal that is intriguing enough to inspire employees of an organization to take action.
  • The term comes from the 1994 HarperBusiness book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.
  • BHAGs are meant to pull people out of a slump and energize them to implement a big picture-type plan that could take a decade to complete.
  • BHAGs are broadly defined as falling under four main categories: role model, common enemy, targeting, or internal transformation.

Understanding Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)

Collins and Porras point to a number of well-known mission statements—BHAGs that galvanized organizations to achieve incredible results. The most powerful example is President Kennedy’s 1961 famous declaration: “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.” The result, of course, was a historic moon landing in 1969.

BHAGs have a proven record of motivating businesses to reach for success.

How Big Hairy Audacious Goals Work

Collins has expounded on the concept of a BHAG, laying out criteria for creating one. Because BHAGs are supposed to pull people out of short-term thinking, the time frame for a BHAG is supposed to be at least ten years, if not more. The BHAG should have a reasonable chance of being achieved—ideally, it should have at least a 50% chance of success. It should also be action-oriented and exciting.

The BHAG is meant to pull a team together, upgrade its desire and capabilities, and push it to achieve something that wouldn't have been possible without the shared commitment.

There are four broad categories of BHAG:

  • Role model
  • Common enemy
  • Targeting
  • Internal transformation

Role-model BHAGs are about emulating the success of a well-known company. This has been overdone a bit, with many companies seeking to be “the Uber" of their industry. Common-enemy BHAGs focus on overtaking your competitors, aiming often at beating the top companies in the industry. Targeting BHAGs refer to things such as becoming a billion-dollar company or ranking #1 in the industry. Internal-transformation BHAGs are generally used by large, established companies to remain competitive by revitalizing their people and their business.

Examples of Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Unlike many mission statements, BHAGs do seem to catch on even with people outside the companies setting them. For example, SpaceX’s goal to “enable human exploration and settlement of Mars” caught international attention. Facebook has set a few BHAGs over time, including to “make the world more open and connected” and “give everyone the power to share anything with anyone.” Google wants to “organize the world’s information and market it universally accessible and useful.”

Given what these companies have achieved already, it seems that setting BHAGs does work.