What’s Big and Hairy . . . and Capable of Making Your Business Stand Out?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On January 20, 2014

While hiring Big Foot would certainly cause a splash within your industry, it’s probably not the way you want to stand out in the marketplace. There is, however, something else that’s big and hairy that could make your company stand out from the crowd—and garner you the kind of attention you really want.

What I’m talking about is a BHAG: A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This isn’t something like: “Increase sales by 5 percent” or “Reduce costs by 10 percent.” A BHAG is a long-range goal (maybe 10-20 years in the achieving) that dramatically changes your company because it stretches your company—and makes it a great company.

Gazelles Systems defines it this way:

Your BHAG should connect with both the Head and Heart of your organization.

Head: Alignment and Focus to achieve a single goal.

Heart: Emotion that makes us proud and happy to do our work.

A BHAG should be a huge, daunting challenge for a company—like climbing Mount Everest. A great BHAG will be clear and compelling, and will serve as a catalyst for growth and inspiration.  It is the North Star you need to guide short-term behavior and decisions that favor the long-term benefit of the company.  It is tangible, energizing, highly focused and has a clear finish line.  People should get it right away, requiring little or no explanation.  It’s the critical link you need to connect execution to strategy.

Those of us who have an entrepreneurial spirit tend to have some big ideas and big goals. A truly life-changing, company-changing, industry-changing goal, however, needs to be more than just big. It needs to be more than audacious. And that’s where business leaders often flounder. There are several key words buried in that Gazelles description: tangible, focused, and clear finish line. I’d like to add another word: measureable.

  • Your company-defining goal needs to be tangible. It has to be real. It’s OK if others can’t quite grasp it at the beginning, but it needs to be something that’s actually achievable and that brings real benefit.
  • Your goal must be focused. It has to be specific. You have to be able to define it and not settle for vague “industry-speak” platitudes (“cutting edge” or “best-of-industry”). At some point you need people outside of your own company to instantly understand what it is you’re doing—and how it will benefit them.
  • Your goal has to have a clear finish line. At some point, you need to be able to say that you achieved your goal. And it needs to be clear to everyone that you did. There’s an old proverb that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” It’s true. If you continue to work on a goal without ever arriving, it takes the heart right out of you and your employees.
  • All of this leads up to having a goal that is measurable. What are the metrics you’ll have in place by which you’ll measure your success? That’s one sure-fire way to determine if you’re setting good goals. If you can’t come up with very specific ways to measure both periodic and ultimate progress, you don’t have a BHAG—you have a WHAG (a Wild Haired Audacious Idea).

So think big! Think audacious! But before you set your goal, make sure you’re able to measure it. Otherwise your Big Hairy Audacious Goal will be nothing more than Big Foot—an enticing myth that eludes capture.