What Is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?
The term big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) refers to a clear and compelling target that an organization tries to reach. The term was coined in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Collins and Porras commonly abbreviate it as BHAG, which is pronounced bee hag.
- A 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 is abbreviated as BHAG, which is pronounced bee-hag.
- BHAG comes from the 1994 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 longer time frame to complete.
- BHAGs are broadly defined as falling under four main categories, including the role model, common enemy, targeting, and internal transformation.
Understanding Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)
All companies have goals. But it's often not enough to have them. In order to succeed, they have to develop very precise targets that separate them from their competition while motivating their staff. That's where the big hairy audacious goal comes in.
A BHAG is a long-term goal that everyone in a company can understand and rally behind. Pronounced bee hag, it is meant to excite and energize management and employees in a way that quarterly targets and lengthy mission statements often fail to do.
As noted above, the term was coined by authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which was the result of their study of 18 long-lasting companies. Both authors highlight some of the key corporate practices that make them distinct from their competitors.
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, or 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.
BHAGs have a proven record of motivating businesses to reach for success.
History of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal
In their book, 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.
Since publishing the book, Collins expounded on the concept of a BHAG by 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. As such, it should ideally have at least a 50% chance of success. It should also be action-oriented and exciting.
Types of BHAGs
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: This BHAG should seek to emulate 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: A BHAG that falls in this category should focus on overtaking the competition. As such, companies with a common enemy should aim at beating the top companies in their industry.
- Targeting: This refers to things such as becoming a billion-dollar company or ranking as the leader in the industry.
- Internal Transformation: Companies should remain competitive by revitalizing their people and their business. This is generally used by large, established corporations.
Examples of BHAGs
Unlike many mission statements, BHAGs seem to catch on even with people outside the companies that set them. For example:
- SpaceX’s goal to “enable human exploration and settlement of Mars” caught international attention
- Meta (META), formerly 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 (GOOGL) wants to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
Given what these companies have achieved already, it seems that setting BHAGs does, in fact, work.
Why Is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal Useful?
A big hairy audacious goal is useful in that it's a long-term goal that everyone in a company can understand and rally behind. The term, which is abbreviated as BHAG and pronounced bee-hag, was coined in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Simply put, a well-thought-out BHAG shifts the focus to the bigger picture. It is meant to excite and energize people in a way that quarterly targets and lengthy mission statements often fail to, and if executed successfully, can prove to be the cornerstone for a tremendous achievement.
What Are the Categories of BHAG?
According to Collins and Porras, there are four broad categories of BHAG. The role model seeks to emulate the success of a well-known company. The common enemy focuses on overtaking the competitors. Targeting sets a specific objective such as becoming a billion-dollar company, and internal transformation seeks to remain competitive by revitalizing employees and business.
What Are Some Notable BHAGs?
One of the most notable and iconic BHAGs 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. More current BHAGs include Meta's “make the world more open and connected” mantra for Facebook, and Google's “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
What Is the Difference Between Corporate Vision and BHAG?
The main difference between a corporate vision and a company's big hairy audacious goals is the level of boldness or daring involved. Generally, vision is more reasonable and there is consensus that the goals of the vision can be reasonably achieved. BHAGs, on the other hand, are more like moonshots that have some likelihood of success, but might also fail. BHAGs are riskier but bolder, and if they do succeed can be quite groundbreaking.
The Bottom Line
A big hairy audacious goal, which is also called a BHAG or bee-hag, is a large-scale goal of great importance that is also bold, somewhat risky, and high-stakes. The concept was developed in the mid-1990s by business school professors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies as a way to stimulate innovation, creativity, and progress within organizations.