Goal-setting has long been a crucial cornerstone for product managers. However, it’s often challenging to unite all employees under a shared vision for the future. While there are various approaches to motivating your employees, one framework may be your best bet for encouraging your team to give their best effort.
Setting a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) can help ignite excitement in your team about their projects. A compelling BHAG can foster an environment of innovation supported by employees with a shared commitment. A long-term goal also provides clear expectations and promotes collaboration between cross-functional teams.
Table of contents
- What is a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG)?
- What role does BHAG play in strategy?
- What are the four types of BHAG?
- BHAG examples
- How do I choose a BHAG?
What is a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG)?
A big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) is a visionary and compelling goal for the next 10–25 years of a company. It should feel intimidating, perhaps slightly impossible, but still achievable if the company puts forth its best efforts.
The concept of BHAG was introduced in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. The idea behind BHAG is to shift a company’s perspective toward the bigger picture.
Typically, there are four factors that make up an organization’s BHAG:
- Big — The goal is enormous, and it’s not something that can be completed in a year or even five years. The goal should take at least 10 years to accomplish
- Hairy — It should be risky since it will require innovation and maximum effort to reach it
- Audacious — The idea is bold and has the “gasp factor” that makes you stop and think about it
- Goal — Goals need to be measurable even if they are BHAGs. You should consider the SMART formula while formulating your BHAG
A BHAG (pronounced bee-hag) needs to resonate with the heart and soul of the employee. While “make $1 million in profit” is an admirable goal, it doesn’t necessarily excite the average employee. However, a goal like “put a person on Mars” may grab their attention, and they’ll want to work on that groundbreaking project.
If your BHAG doesn’t intimidate you slightly, then it’s not truly a BHAG. It should scare you just enough so that there’s only a 50–70 percent chance of achieving it. The idea is to dream beyond short-term goals and push the boundaries of your organization into new territory.
What role does BHAG play in strategy?
In terms of strategy, BHAGs can assist your organization with decision-making processes and focusing on priorities. Put simply, they help prepare you for better long-term success.
There are three main benefits to establishing an ambitious long-term goal. Setting a BHAG helps you:
- Increase motivation
- Define a vision aligned with your organization’s core purpose
- Unite employees under a shared focus
Setting a BHAG slightly beyond the reach of your organization means employees will need to expand their current capabilities to meet those goals. Because the goal is so big, hairy, and audacious, it energizes your employees. This energy means they are willing to put in the work necessary to see the BHAG come alive.
However, there are some potential challenges associated with BHAGs:
- Setting an unachievable goal — The aim of setting a BHAG is to have a 50–70 percent chance of achieving it, but creating one with less than 50 percent chance of success may set your team up for failure
- Setting an easily achievable goal — If you’re extremely confident you can reach your BHAG, then it’s not big or ambitious enough. There should be at least a slight chance you won’t reach your goal
- Not having enough time commitment — A good BHAG will take at least 10 years to achieve. Don’t expect your organization to achieve it in five years as this might be too ambitious
- Confusing the BHAG with mission/vision statements — Your BHAG should be short and catchy. If it extends over several pages then it no longer qualifies as one
- Only exciting executives — A key component of a successful BHAG is its ability to excite everyone. If only top management finds it compelling, it’s unlikely to motivate other employees
- Not implementing change management — Your organization needs a change management strategy to ensure a smooth transition toward achieving new goals
- Having no roadmap — There needs to be clear plan on how you intend to achieve your goals. Clearly defined roadmaps with short-term objectives can help you track progress and keep everyone on track
What are the four types of BHAG?
When it comes to setting a BHAG, there are four broad categories. The one you choose depends on what will motivate your team the most:
- Role model — In this category, your BHAG is to emulate a successful company. For example, perhaps you want to mirror the success of Apple products
- Common enemy — Focus on your competitors and aim to surpass them. Your BHAG could be “Outsell Amazon in eBook sales,” for example
- Targeting — Create a highly targeted quantitative or qualitative goal. It could be to reach a certain profit margin or become the highest-ranked organization in your industry
- Internal transformation — Concentrate on creating a significant change within your organization. For instance, your BHAG could be to transform your processes, services, or positioning
Some of the best examples of big, hairy, audacious goals are bold and eye-catching. They make you raise an eyebrow and question whether they’re really achievable.
Here are a few examples of notable BHAGs:
- Google — Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
- Meta — Give people the power to build community and bring people closer together
- Evernote — Become an extension of your brain — remember everything
- Amazon — Be Earth’s most customer-centric company, Earth’s best employer, and Earth’s safest place to work
- Starbucks — Nurture the limitless possibilities of human connection
- Apple — Make every product carbon-neutral by 2030
BHAGs may seem unattainable, but even some of our wildest dreams have come true. One of the most famous examples is when John F. Kennedy announced America’s goal to land the first person on the moon by the end of the 1960s. This definitely qualifies as a BHAG because it seemed impossible at that time. Yet, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon in 1969, demonstrating the power of setting a BHAG and working tirelessly toward achieving it.
Another example of a successful BHAG in product management is Nike’s initial goal: crush Adidas. When Nike started out in a garage in the early 1960s, this was its clear BHAG. Within 20 years, Nike emerged as the top shoe manufacturer, surpassing Adidas. With an ambitious goal in mind, Nike was able to work toward achieving its big dream.
How do I choose a BHAG?
Choosing a BHAG for your organization begins with brainstorming ideas that go beyond what you hope to achieve in the next 10–25 years. You should consider your boldest and most intriguing ideas for the future before starting to work toward finding manageable steps to reach your BHAG.
When determining your organization’s BHAG, consider the following questions:
- Is it exciting?
- Is it clear, compelling, and easy to grasp?
- Does it connect with your organization’s core purpose?
- Will it excite everyone in your organization, not just executive leadership?
- Is it undeniably a BHAG or does it resemble a wordy, hard-to-understand vision statement?
- Do you believe there is less than a 100 percent chance of success, yet believe that, if fully committed, your organization can achieve it?
- Will achieving this require significant improvements in capabilities and characteristics of your organization?
- In 25 years’ time, will you be able to tell if you achieved this goal?
A good BHAG sits between “This is impossible” and “it might be possible.” Creating such can help energize employees and motivate them toward pursuing its achievement.
A BHAG-driven approach fosters an environment where employees are encouraged to experiment and grow. When they share in this vision, they tend to give their best effort, which results in completely transforming companies with significant impact on their respective industries.
Featured image source: IconScout
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