A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a visionary business goal that will inspire your employees. The advantages are obvious. The question is, how do you formulate a BHAG?

In 1964, University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). Operating out of their garage, the company initially acted as a distributor for Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger, making most sales at track meets out of Knight’s automobile.

"Crush Adidas"

By 1971, the relationship between BRS and Onitsuka Tiger was nearing an end, and Knight prepared to launch its own line of footwear. It was the right time to rename the company; christened after the Greek goddess of victory, “Nike,” would become a household name. This new name was one way in which Knight got his staff enthused about the changes in the company. The other method was the vision the co-founder described to his people: his goal was to “crush Adidas.”

Although Adidas is still going strong in 2019, Knight’s goal was so inspiring that Nike is the world’s largest sports footwear brand in the world today.

What is a BHAG?

The simple words “crush Adidas” are an example of a so-called “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” A BHAG (pronounced bee-hag) is a visionary business goal that will inspire employees. In 1994, this concept was introduced in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins and Jerry Porras.

The authors elaborate in their book:

“[…] a true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort—often creating immense 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 BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People ‘get it’ right away; it takes little or no explanation.”

Some examples of BHAGS mentioned by Collins and Porras are:

  • “Democratize the automobile.” (Ford, early 1900s).
  • “Become the company that most changes the worldwide image of Japanese products as being of poor quality.” (Sony, early 1950s).
  • “Yamaha Wo tsubusu! (We will crush, squash, slaughter Yamaha!)” (Honda, 1970s).

Some BHAGS that inspire me are:

  • Microsoft’s vision of around 1980 that a computer would be on every desk and in every house;
  • SpaceX‘s plan to bring people to Mars;
  • Dutch telco KPN, that wants to become the most customer-friendly company in the Netherlands.

How To Formulate Your BHAG

Because it inspires your workforce – and we all know that your people make or break your success as an organization – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal is a strategic advantage in the marketplace. So, I would recommend that you formulate a BHAG for your business. How? Below I will give some practical tips to accomplish this:

  1. The end goal is so big and inspiring that employees feel challenged to strive for it;
  2. The BHAG can be divided into sub-goals, which is a big motivating factor;
  3. Your goal is specific;
  4. Do not forget to establish a timeframe.

Do you need some input when formulating your BHAG? You are always welcome to ponder your business strategy while drinking a cup of coffee at our beautiful office in Amsterdam.