Businesses around the world are indebted to James Collins and Jerry Porras for giving us the concept of the “BHAG” – a “big, hairy, audacious goal.” BHAGs have been instrumental in challenging and changing businesses for the better for years. BHAGs are stretch goals: specific in nature, long-term in timeframe, and transformative in outcome.
It takes leadership courage to define and commit to a BHAG for two key reasons. First, you have to define what the BHAG is and how you will know if you have accomplished it. It is much easier to say, “We need to improve our safety in the manufacturing plant” (in what areas will you improve safety and by how much?) vs. “Within three years, we will completely eliminate lost work days due to accident or injury” (this is a quantifiable goal with a set timeframe).
Second, people may resist BHAGs. They assume that “what we have done is the best we can ever do.” Therefore, if you propose a 10% growth rate as a BHAG but the company has never grown more than 7% a year, people will say that the BHAG is unrealistic … completely missing the point that BHAGs are, by their very nature, a stretch!
Knowing that a BHAG really puts things on the line, why set a BHAG? Here’s the ultimate reason: because a BHAG is a more/greater/faster/better type of goal, it is inspirational. It will never be reached or achieved by doing “business as always.” Instead, it demands new ways of thinking and new ways of behaving. The influx of dynamic creativity and innovation that a BHAG generates is what helps the company achieve outcomes beyond anything accomplished in the past.
So, have the courage as a leadership team to set a BHAG … or even several BHAGs! You can set BHAGs for any area of your business, such as:
- Sales and revenue. The bottom line is the bottom line, so give it a BHAG. Where do you want to be in a few years? Don’t worry about how you will get there yet – after all, if you know how to get there, it’s not a BHAG, it’s just what you should be doing. What would a stretch goal look like when it comes to financial business growth?
- Corporate culture. Culture might seem like an intangible, but it is not. Many aspects of culture can be measured, and therefore are fair game for a BHAG. For example, we once worked with a client where they had done an employee engagement survey and the results were horrible – on a scale of 0 to 100, their score was in the 30s. They decided that they were going to completely reverse those employee engagement numbers to be at 70 or above in two years. They made it – and the numbers kept climbing in succeeding years!
- Customer experience. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business – they deserve a BHAG! For instance, a bank might set a BHAG around new account openings that says, “Within two years, we want to improve the customer’s omnichannel banking experience so that we decrease abandoned applications by 80%.”
- Innovation. Many people think that creativity can’t be “forced.” Perhaps it can’t be – but it can be robustly encouraged! You can therefore set a BHAG around innovative programs or products or services. Your people will rise to the occasion!
Deciding on a BHAG is not a complicated process – but it does require leadership courage. Gather together the team of people who are ultimately responsible for the business outcomes you are looking for. Then, engage in dialogue and creative thinking to answer the following: “What is it that we would love to achieve – that would absolutely blow us away if we achieved it? What would cause us to feel that we had accomplished more than we could ever imagine on this project or in this business or with this group of people?”
The answer you agree on is your big, hairy, audacious goal! Be excited about it – committing to your BHAG is the first step to making it happen!
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