How Big, Hairy, and Audacious Affects Urgency, Achievability, and Leadership

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On February 2, 2015

BHAGIf you read these posts regularly, you know that I tend to talk about “BHAGs” with some degree of consistency. That’s because I believe that Big Hairy Audacious Goals are critical for the health and success of any company wanting to grow. There has to be something pushing your business forward. More revenues and market share alone simply aren’t enough.

In an interview with Inc., Jim Collins (who came up with the BHAG moniker) revisited some of his thinking about setting the kind of ambitious long-term goals that keep successful companies moving forward. You can read the entire article here, but I wanted to touch three things that Collins mentioned in order to get you thinking about how to grow your company: Urgency, Appropriateness, and Leadership.

  • URGENCY: By Collins’ definition, a BHAG isn’t a goal you can achieve quickly. It’s too big for that. He talks about goals that can take decades to achieve. So how does that give your company a sense of urgency? Collins says that a goal that’s really big and ambitious (think: industry-changing) should make you realize that you have to start today—and be relentless in your pursuit of it. If all you’re doing is adding bells and whistles, there’s no big rush. But if what you’re doing requires a lot of work (and is really going to change things), you better get busy now. I love how he says, “you are no longer managing for the quarter but for the quarter century.”
  • ACHIEVABILITY: How do you know if your BHAG is right for your company? One way is to check how achievable it is. Collins suggests that if you’re absolutely certain that you can achieve your goal, you’re probably not stretching far enough. You don’t want a goal that nobody thinks is realistic (that’s discouraging). But you should shoot for something where you feel you have between a 50 to 70 percent chance of making it. That’s the kind of goal that pushes you. You know you can’t “mail it in” and achieve it.
  • LEADERSHIP: A leader with a real BHAG isn’t driven so much by success as by the possibility of doing something really great. That doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t care about the bottom line. But once again, it’s not just about revenues—it’s about changing the world. And another thing that’s characteristic about BHAG leaders is that they get people to follow the dream—the mission, the goal—not them. Why is that important? It matters because a true BHAG will probably outlive the leader.

How is your company’s sense of urgency? What’s the level of achievability for your goals? Are your team members following you or a bigger goal? What’s your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal?