Big Hairy Audacious Goals, also called BHAGs, are a tool to help companies think outside the box and plan for long-term success. The idea is to set a substantial goal to drive the company forward with a strong vision for the future.
The term originated in Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, first published in 1994.
BHAGs are often summed up in one inspiring sentence, like Microsoft’s “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Just a quick summary that helps the entire organization get on the same page for the future.
As the acronym suggests, BHAGs have four components:
Big - BHAGs are highly aspirational and don’t need to seem realistic in the short term. We’re talking about planning several years into the future.
Hairy - Your BHAG shouldn’t be something you could comfortably pull off any time soon. It’s something to build to, even if it means working towards it incrementally.
Audacious - If someone’s first response to your BHAG is, “That’s not realistic,” then you’re on the right track. Think outside of your comfort zone and get crazy.
Goal - You need to create a measurable end goal. Once you have your BHAG idea, think of how you’ll know you have achieved it.
Big hairy audacious goals can be divided into categories that help others within your organization better understand what the BHAG represents. Defining a category for your BHAG also helps with planning strategy because you know exactly which areas to focus on to achieve it.
Common BHAG categories include:
Role model - This category will see you follow in the footsteps of another company. Say you want to emulate the traits of Google or Meta. The role model BHAG would see you research how they got to where they are now and how you can do the same.
Common enemy - Rather than emulating another company’s success, this category will see your BHAG aim to topple your competitors. Essentially, the goal is to be at the top of your industry.
Targeting - Most businesses already use short-term targeted goals. You can use targets for your BHAGs, too — just get ambitious with it. Aim for a $1 billion company, or combine it with the common enemy category and aim to be #1 in your sector.
Internal transformation - This category is great for larger businesses that need to undergo digital transformations and modernization.
There will be some detractors when it comes to setting BHAGs. Naysayers will point out that the goal is wildly ambitious and perhaps unrealistic, but that’s the entire point. It helps to point out the benefits of setting big hairy audacious goals in these situations, including:
Motivation - BHAGs are inspirational goals that give your team that extra push.
Innovation - Working towards the BHAG requires out-of-the-box thinking, which leads to exciting innovations that elevate your business.
Long-term growth - Even if you fail to achieve your BHAG, the business will still grow from the incremental goals you’ve worked towards.
Eliminates narrow-minded thinking - There’s no room for doubt when it comes to BHAGs. Those stuck in their ways will often try to write it off before you even start. Showing examples of successful BHAGs will help to open their mind.
Lets you see the bigger picture - BHAGs help you stop focusing on the small, short-term stresses. You’ll better understand how these small struggles will unfold in the long run.
Lean into the fear - Ignore anyone who says the BHAG is unrealistic. That’s the point.
Set long timeframes - BHAGs are long-term goals. We’re talking years or even decades, not months.
Track progress - With such a long timeframe, you should review BHAG progress regularly to ensure it isn’t falling behind.
Work incrementally - Huge goals like this require many little steps to build towards your BHAG.
Google: "Organize the world's information."
Tesla: "Accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
Spotify: "To unlock the potential of human creativity."
Amazon: "Any book, in any language, available in less than a minute."
Microsoft: "A computer on every desk and in every home."