Yes, we know BHAG (pronounced BEE-hag) sounds like the villain in a kids show, a type of specialty cheese, or maybe even a code word for a top-secret rescue mission. But a BHAG is actually an important business concept introduced by Jim Collins in the book Built to Last. “What does BHAG stand for?” you ask? Big, hairy, audacious goal—it’s a clear, compelling goal that seems unreasonable and out of reach, but something in you is bold enough (and crazy enough) to believe you just might achieve it anyway.
Jim says BHAGs separate the great companies from the mediocre ones. If that’s true, you’re sold, right? BHAGs for everyone! That’s the spirit—but you want to get this right. Let’s talk about how BHAGs drive your business forward even when you don’t achieve them. And you’ll also learn how to set strong BHAGs for your company by looking at a few BHAG examples.
- The definition of BHAG (aka big, hairy, audacious goal) is: a clear, compelling goal that seems unreasonable and slightly out of reach, but you believe you can achieve it.
- BHAGs are important because they’re challenges the unify the people trying to reach them. And on your way to reaching them, you’ll go achieve victories you never imagined.
- BHAGs are strong, focused and inspiring at a gut level.
- As you grow your business, name your BHAG and go after it. And never give up on it.
To understand BHAGs, think of them like stretch goals. Take this example: Because you know saving $500 will be easy, you “stretch” your goal and decide to try to save $1,500 a month instead so you can pay cash for a new car next year. That’s the kind of goal that will show you what you’re really made of!
For business, your goal could be to get your product or service into every household in your community or 1 million downloads to your app within five years. Phew! Neither is a guaranteed win, but like The Little Engine That Could, you think you can, you think you can. So you steadily push your way up the mountain. And that stretch goal, aka your BHAG, is what motivates you to think and work differently to reach something bigger than what you thought you could achieve.
But what if you don’t quite get there? We promise you this: You’re better off for trying. A lot of companies take years to reach a BHAG, and some never do. You don’t have to reach your BHAG to be successful. Every step you take toward your BHAG is a win.
One quick tip though: As you set your BHAG, think both long term and short term. NASA had a bold ambition to land a person on the moon and return them safely to earth. Back in the early 1960s, that seemed somewhere between futuristic and impossible. But once they spoke it out loud, NASA team members rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Their short-range goal? To solve problems and create new and better technology. Their ultimate BHAG? To take one giant leap for mankind.
Why Your Company Needs BHAGs
You may not be literally shooting for the moon like NASA was, but your BHAGs should push your business toward lasting greatness too. Here’s why you need BHAGs:
1. A BHAG is a unifying challenge.
You’re in business to do something useful and important. And that can only happen if you constantly push for change, improvement and innovation. If that sounds tough, that’s because it is. But if it were easy . . . well, you know the rest.For NASA, the odds of accomplishing its moon mission were 50-50 at best. Talk about uncertainty! But the excitement of trying to accomplish its big, hairy, audacious goal unified and focused the team more than any normal, safe goal.
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When you and your team go after a huge, outrageous goal that has a clear finish line, it puts a fire in your belly too, doesn’t it? All of you work harder and more creatively together. Each success along the way, and even failure, is part of the ultimate victory.
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2. Even if you don't reach it, your BHAG will push you to win.
A BHAG drives you past what you thought your limits were. It energizes your team to the point you can’t stop thinking about it and have to go for it. And it motivates you to change your business strategies as the world around you changes and new opportunities come up.
Take Walt Disney as an example of someone whose passion drove him to achieve amazing things. He had a dream to make people happy through their imagination. His BHAG (even if he didn’t call it that) was what we now know as Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But Walt started with drawings of a mouse, then produced little films, then groundbreaking features—all before Disneyland and Walt Disney World were built. Every new discovery pushed the limits of creativity and technology, bringing his vision closer to reality.
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By now, you’re probably fired up to create your own BHAG. And we’re fired up for you. Entrepreneurs and business leaders were born to dream big! But as you write out your daring goal, aim for one that is:
- Easy to get your head around
- Energizing and motivating
- Deeply inspiring
Say no to corporate mumbo jumbo or long statements that are impossible to remember. You may even need to revisit your mission statement and company values to help keep you focused and inspired. Let’s look at some big, hairy, audacious goals examples so you can see what we mean.
To double its business with half the impact through sustainable innovation.
To create technology and products that advance every company, enhance every home, and improve every life
To be the catalyst that makes the world work better
BHAG Goals That Move Your Company Forward
Double its business with half the impact? Woah! That is a massive target. But Nike is getting closer to reaching it by setting other BHAGs on the way to it. You may have an ultimate BHAG too, but to reach it, you’ll need other bold goals that grow and change as your business does.
Let’s look at Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions as an example of a company with a BHAG to radically transform so many lives that the toxic culture is disrupted. Today, because of that BHAG, Ramsey Solutions has several business units and products (including EntreLeadership and Financial Peace University) with their own BHAGs that are helping Ramsey Solutions reach more people and change more lives. But when the company started in 1992, it was just Dave—creating a program to teach people how to handle their money from a card table in his living room.
Fresh out of bankruptcy, Dave was passionate to share his hard-learned money principles with anyone who would listen. At first, he did that locally through seminars in hotel conference rooms and one-on-one coaching sessions. Then he sold his first self-published book on financial peace from the trunk of his car. Eventually, Dave found his seat behind a mic, where he’s helped people for more than 30 years on The Ramsey Show. Let’s take a look at his early BHAGs:
- Air the radio show in 25 cities.
- Sell 50,000 copies of Financial Peace.
- Teach Financial Peace University (FPU) in five cities.
- The radio show aired in one city.
- He only sold 14,000 copies of Financial Peace.
- He taught FPU in two cities.
- Air the radio show in 75 cities.
- Sell 200,000 copies of Financial Peace.
- Teach FPU in 25 cities.
- The radio show aired in 12 cities.
- He sold 100,000 copies of Financial Peace.
- He taught FPU in three cities.
Notice something interesting? Dave missed every early BHAG, but the goals he and his small team set gave Ramsey Solutions its start. What if he’d set smaller, safer goals? Well, Ramsey Solutions might not even exist! Even though Dave didn’t reach those goals, they pushed him in a direction he might never have considered if he hadn't written them down and taken the steps to achieve them. As Jim Collins said, “A BHAG is a relentless search for the next challenge that’s going to push us and make us feel inadequate so, therefore, we have to grow . . . We are overwhelmed, and we overcome.”
Today, his radio show, The Ramsey Show, has millions of listeners nationally. Dave’s eight national bestselling books have sold more than 10 million copies combined, and Financial Peace University is a #1 bestselling course that’s helped nearly 10 million people learn how to become debt-free and win with money. All of this happened because Dave never quit—and he and his team have gone after crazier BHAGs ever since. That’s how BHAGs work: They’re possibly impossible, but the success you’ll achieve in trying to reach them is beyond what you can imagine.
The moral of this story is this: Name your BHAG, go after it, and never give up.
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What’s Next: How Bad Do You Want It?
As you think about your BHAG, ask yourself how bad you want it. Building a business that pushes the limits on “normal” is no walk in the park, but it’s how you can have the impact you want and see impossible dreams come true. (C’mon—your inner Walt is just waiting to dream and do something big.)
One way to learn more on how to set goals and push beyond your limits is to check out The EntreLeadership Podcast. You’ll hear from Dave and have a chance to call in with questions!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is BHAG a goal-setting synonym?
Yes. Thanks to super fans of the book Built to Last, the acronym BHAG is a goal-setting synonym used by all kinds of people to describe a scary and thrilling goal they’re trying to reach. When you and your team set a big, hairy, audacious goal, talk about it a lot so your team stays focused and motivated.
What’s the history of the BHAG?
Let’s go back to 1988 when Jim Collins, a Stanford University business professor, wanted to teach his students about more than just how to run a business. He wanted to answer the question, “How do you turn an entrepreneurial venture or a small business into an enduring, great company?”
Jim teamed up with Professor Jerry Porras to explore how start-ups like The Walt Disney Company, Boeing, 3M, IBM, Walmart and Hewlett-Packard Co. became iconic companies that have changed the world. They found that visionary companies that have stood the test of time do these three things (and more): preserve their core values, stimulate progress and, you guessed it, develop big, hairy, audacious goals. Jim and Jerry’s research became the book we know today as Built to Last, which has sold more than 1 million copies. With its popularity, the BHAG was born.
What if I don’t have a company mission statement?
Great question! Writing a mission statement is one of the most important things you can do for your company. It answers what your company does and why you do it, and it also clarifies your company’s personality and core values. So, before you charge ahead with a big, hairy, audacious goal, be sure you and your team members are clear on your mission statement.