Big Hairy Audacious Goal – BHAG

This is a continuation of my series on planning.  One of the salient characteristic or habits of visionary companies identified in the book, "Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies"  was the setting of a bold mission.  I would like to discuss it because it is one of the tools I use in my planning.  I do not apply it often but I am always looking for opportunities. 

Big hairy audacious goal (BHAG pronounced bee-hag) is a bold mission that a company sets out to achieve.  Not all the companies in the book adopted BHAGs but there were some great examples.

In 1952 Boeing set out to build a large jet aircraft for the commercial market.  At that point Boeing had no presence in the commercial market and previous attempts had been failures.  Management decided to defy the odds and establish themselves a major player in the commercial market.  Boeing built a jet and called it the 707.  In contrast Douglas Aircraft, the comparison company, decided to stick with piston propellers and wait and see.   Douglas waited and saw Boeing fly right by them and dominate the commercial market.  Boeing has had a history of taking on these BHAGs.  They developed the P-26,  B-17, 707 and 727.  Then Boeing takes on the 747 that almost killed the company.  Douglas in comparison never attained the market position of Boeing.

Another example is General Electric goal to "become #1 or #2 in every market we serve and revolutionize the company to have the speed and agility of a small enterprise."  In comparison, Westinghouse came out with a vision statement of "Total Quality, market Leadership, Technology Driven, Global, Focused Growth, Diversified."  Not either was right or wrong, GE’s was compelling and clear.

Another BHAG that comes to mind is Kennedy’s "man on the moon" mission.  Clear, simple, compelling and inspiring.  Gets the juices flowing.

When you consider BHAGs for your organization here are some key points to keep in mind.  These are from the book:

  • A BHAG should be so clear and compelling that it requires little or no explanation
  • A BHAG should fall well outside your comfort zone
  • A BHAG should be so bold and exciting in its own right that it will stimulate progress even if the leaders disappear
  • A BHAG should be consistent with the company’s core ideology

For more information see the book "Built to Last", a business classic.

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