Where does greatness come from? One thing that sets a great company apart from others is the way they set goals. Great companies set great goals. Mediocre companies set mediocre goals. Sound simple, right? But what makes a goal great?
In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras talked about setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). In essence, a BHAG is a strategic business statement created to focus a business on a single medium-to-long term (10–30 year) goal for the whole organization that is ambitious, extremely challenging, likely to be questioned by people outside the organization—but regarded as possible by those on the inside.
Here’s how Collins and Porras described a real BHAG:
A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.
A true BHAG will take you and your employees a little bit out of your comfort zone. If you’re big goal is to achieve a 10% revenue growth over the next 12 months, you don’t have a BHAG. Back in the 1960s, “Having 12 successful launches and coming in under budget,” was not a BHAG for NASA. “Putting a man on the moon by 1969,” was!
A great goal, however (as Collins and Porras noted) has to be more than just big, hairy, and audacious. Here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure your BHAG is really a great one.
1. Is it 10+ years out? Goals that are less than 10 years out probably aren’t big enough to qualify as a BHAG. A truly great goal will take a lot of time to plan, research, and execute.
2. Is it measurable so you know when you get there? It’s absolutely critical that you have specific metrics for your goal. If the “finish line” keeps moving, people will burn out because the job will never be done.
3. Is it 80% Impossible and 20% Possible? You want your goal to be big enough that it challenges and inspires team members. An absolutely impossible goal, however, is demoralizing.
4. Does it leverage what you love to do and what you are great at? If you are going to pursue a really big goal, it’s going to be demanding. You want to be doing something that you love and that you do well—not something that drains your or requires you to excel in areas outside your areas of expertise.
5. Does it push your business to greatness and stretch the people and processes? Great athletes, great artists, and great business people push themselves to do something others can’t—or won’t. To achieve something great, people need to be motivated to do more than they think they can do—and to find new and better processes to accomplish the goal. The goal can’t just be “more”—it needs to be different and better.
What’s your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?