Get Started with Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) Today – an Extensive Guide

Caution!

After reading this article Bigfoot will not be the first thing that comes to your mind when somebody says big, hairy, and audacious.

You will instead be reminded of super-effective long-term company goals.

It is a BHAG we are talking about.

what is a BHAG

But, what does BHAG stand for? How does it work? Does Bigfoot have anything at all to do with it?

Let’s answer these questions right here right now.

What is a BHAG?

BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goals defines a compelling, long-term goal that aims to inspire the employees of a brand. It is one of the strongest ways to incite advancement. After the statement of a BHAG, no one has any questions in mind, and everyone knows what the aim is due to its clear nature.

If you still think you would need to explain it and improve your employee performance, you can check this guide to employee and personal performance improvement plans. But believe me, if you are implementing BHAGs, you won’t need it.

The history of BHAG

BHAGs have always been around.

The companies of the past have attained BHAGs in order to get them to the next level. If we are to be bold, we can say that BHAGs are as old as the concept of competition itself.

But who invented the term BHAG?

Although BHAG is old, the term had not been coined up until 1994.

In their highly influential book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras invented the term BHAG.

According to them, BHAGs were made up of three elements:

👉 What you are passionate about,

👉 What drives your financial income,

👉 What is the thing you do best in the world

big hairy audacious goals diagram

When did it become viral?

BHAGs have always been famous.

Even the 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt advocated BHAGs in 1899 – before he became president.

Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory, nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

But getting attention from the general audience as BHAG happens to be in June 2004 – according to Google Trends. And it keeps getting more recognized by the audiences each day. 

Why use BHAG?

There are several reasons to use BHAGs, and there are BHAG types according to your purposes. It is better to list the BHAG types to understand why you should use BHAGs.

1- Target Oriented BHAGs

There are two types of company targets: quantitative and qualitative.

The former sets a target of quantitative measure. For example, your BHAG can target your company’s worth to become $1 million. The latter, on the other hand, is about a qualitative measure. This BHAG can be about being a dominant force in the industry you are in.

The key point here is to set BHAGs that are adequate to excite your employees but at the same time everlasting – this rule is valid for all types of BHAG. Even if you leave the company one day, you want to make sure that your BHAG still lives on.

Thus, you can see the first reason why you should use BHAGs. It helps your company’s growth to reach the desired level.

2- Common Enemy BHAGs

Competition is in the nature of any business. You have to go into a race.

This BHAG is all about being the underdog.

You set your sight on another company, and you claim that you will surpass them eventually. Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras define such situations as David vs. The Goliath.

If you desire to arouse a feeling of competition amongst your employees, this is why you should use BHAGs. Naming the common enemy is a great strategy to make people work towards that aim.

3- Role Model BHAGs

If you are a newly established company, you will have role models.

This type of BHAGs helps you with this regard. Unlike Common Enemy BHAGs, you will talk about another great company that is in a different industry. Keep this in mind: there is no point in using Role Model BHAGs if you are going to say great things about your rivals.

The third reason, thus, comes clean. You will set up a standard for your company, thanks to BHAGs.

4- Internal Transformation BHAGs

Sometimes companies come to a deadlock, and change becomes inevitable – or your company is doomed to failure.

Internal Transformation BHAGs are on your side when you need that spark to start the revolution.

The final reason why you should use BHAGs is they can be the motivation provider for your company – even if you are not going to transform it drastically.

Top BHAG Examples

Now, enough with the explanations. Let’s see some big hairy audacious goal examples, shall we?

1- John F. Kennedy

bhag jfk moon speech

It was the 25th of May 1961, when former US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave an iconic speech in which he stated:

“I believe that 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 the Earth.”

john F. Kennedy

Then came 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon and came back.

During the Cold War – in a period where people of the US needed motivation and hope – John F. Kennedy used a BHAG, especially a Target Oriented BHAG.

The statement had accomplished what a BHAG has to accomplish.

And even after 6 years of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the US aspired to be the first nation going to the moon. In other words, even though John F Kennedy was not the president, the idea of going to the moon was everlasting.

2- SpaceX

bhag elon musk spacex

Let’s continue from the space.

Elon Musk. Need I say more than his name? Some know him as a bold and visionary person, some people know him as the Dogecoin guy.

But we all know him.

Whenever there is talk of SpaceX, Elon Musk is never afraid to use BHAGs. The current goal of the company is to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets” – another Target Oriented BHAG.

They have been working up the collar so as to achieve their goals. So far, they are the first private company to successfully reach the International Space Station and invent the first-ever reusable rocket.

3- Spotify

bhag daniel ek spotify

Back in the day, Daniel Ek had a vision for the music industry.

The piracy “industry” had grown so much that the musicians were struggling.

He thought that there should be a way of listening to music without any copyright infringement. So, in 2006 he came up with the idea of Spotify.

Spotify’s BHAG was a simple yet game-changing one. Spotify strived to be a better option than piracy. So, their BHAG was to become “a social music service that was more attractive than piracy for consumers that also allowed the music industry to grow.”

4- Amazon

bhag jeff bezos amazon

Founded by Jeff Bezos, Amazon has been one of the most valuable companies in the world. The company’s worth is about $1.6 trillion as of the time I am writing this. However, Jeff Bezos still uses BHAGs to establish dominance over the industry.

Recently, he stated that they want to make not purchasing Amazon Premium membership irresponsibility – meaning you will feel like it is your responsibility to purchase a premium membership.

And they have been working to achieve this goal ever since. They are opening new warehouses, investing in technology – more money than Google.

That, friends, is a dedicated BHAG.

5- Nike

bhag phil knight nike

Let’s jump into the time machine and go back to the 60s.

When Nike was first founded in the year of 1964, the company was trying to make a dent in the sportswear industry. Back in those days, all the industry was dominated by one giant company – Adidas.

Their name was Blue Ribbon Sports, and they had one goal: to crush Adidas.

You decide whether or not they realized this BHAG; however, they are one of the dominating forces in the sportswear industry – and it seems that they have no intention to leave the competition. The vision of Phil Knight becoming closer and closer.

6- Starbucks

bhag howard schultz starbucks

This time we have a story that Jim Collins shared on his website.

One day Howard Schultz – the owner of Starbucks – and Jim Collins talk about BHAGs. Howard Schultz then proceeds to claim that they have a BHAG, which requires no effort: opening two thousand stores by the year 2000.

Jim Collins argues that this can’t be a BHAG, tells him to go back to Seattle and come up with a better BHAG.

After a while, Howard Schultz comes with a proper BHAG. This one is to overthrow Coca-Cola and become the most recognized and respected consumer company.

We can’t say that they overthrew Coca-Cola, but they sure do have a similar impact on popular culture today.

7- Microsoft

bhag bill gates microsoft

The final example comes from a good samaritan Bill Gates.

In 2006 at a press conference, Bill Gates reflected on the founding of Microsoft, the third most valuable company in the world. He pointed out that he and his friend Paul Allen set a goal unlike any.

Their BHAG was to put a computer on every desk and every home.

Today, Microsoft is a giant in the technology industry and I’d say they (almost) achieved their big hairy audacious goal if you unsee poverty and off-the-grid people for a second.

But hey, more about you now.

What is your BHAG and how do you get started with it? Let’s take a look.

How to Get Started with Big Hairy Audacious Goals in 7 Steps

As of now, you are one big hairy audacious goal away from being the next Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk.

Let’s get you one, in 7 steps.

1- Excitement

The BHAG you are setting has to be exciting.

First, you have to feel the excitement towards the goal, then your employees should feel it. Otherwise, it would just be an interesting idea that has no correspondence amongst your employees.

Employee engagement at this stage is the top priority.

2- To the Point

A BHAG is almost like a catchphrase. It is concise, meaningful, and to the point.

And it is important to keep it that way not only for your employees’ motivation but also for it to be an everlasting one. You can’t stick to a super complicated goal for years, but if it is simple like “we will go to the moon” or “we will put a computer on every home”, it will stick with you and the rest of the world.

Besides, it would make a great origin story 😎

3- Remember the Core

Don’t try to get a cat to fetch a stick.

You have to come up with BHAGs that are in line with the core values of your company.

If you set a goal that does not harmonize with core values, you will either have to change to fit the goal or drop the goal altogether. After all, no goal is as important as a business you put in your blood, sweat, and tears.

4- Shoot for the Stars

Now, you aren’t supposed to stray off your own company’s line, but you can always aim high. There is no point in coming up with an enigma that aims low.

You have to shoot for the stars.

And I mean for real, JFK wasn’t reluctant to do so, why should you?

5- Probable Enough

If you are 100% sure that you will reach out to the goal you set, that can not be a BHAG.

It is merely a projection.

But, this does not mean that your BHAG should have a 10% chance. Something between 50 – 70% chance seems good enough for a BHAG. Keep it big, hairy, and audacious like a bear, or a lion, not the Bigfoot.

6- Changing the Company

You can’t expect to achieve your BHAG if you are chasing your tail.

The BHAG must require improvement in your company, and you have to be willing to improve. In any case, a goal is something that should be moving you forward. If you aren’t, then that means that is not the right BHAG for you.

7- 25 Years Rule

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras generally set a period of 25 years.

According to the former, you should be able to be in a position where you achieved your BHAG in 25 years.

The best practice is probably to plan ahead for the coming 5-10 years, and be ready to stretch and bend as your goal takes you into the 20-30 years ahead.

Conclusion

If there is one thing I know for sure about BHAGs, it is that they are easy to come up with but hard to stick to.

That is exactly why you should make sure your BHAG is one that can be your north before diving into it, unless you want to regret every decision in the last 10 years at some point.

Hopefully, this article will inspire you into finding the biggest, hairiest, and most audacious goal out there. Beware of Bigfoot!

Frequently Asked Questions


What is a personal BHAG?

A personal big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) is about setting a personal goal regarding where to live, where to work, and where you want to see in a given number of years. This is quite similar to a standard BHAG, whose key points are pretty applicable to a personal BHAG.


What is Apple’s BHAG?

Apple set a BHAG of trying to jump to the next curve of personal computing. Apart from this, Steve Jobs stated that he wanted to put a dent in the universe.


What does BHAG stand for?

It stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal – a long-term goal that needs motivation and hard work. It also needs to be accomplishable.

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Mert Aktas

Mert is the Marketing Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 7000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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