The Systems Thinker Blog

Beyond Business Goals—The Right BHAG Will Catapult Your Company!

Posted byRon Carroll

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals” (Zig Ziglar).

If your goals don’t challenge you, they won’t change you, and they certainly won’t stretch your team “to dream the impossible dream and reach the unreachable star.” So let’s take a minute to consider the kind of goals that will last beyond a few weeks and elevate your company to remarkable levels of achievement. Let’s create some BHAGs!

So what’s a BHAG you ask (pronounced BEE-hag)? It is a BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL, a term discussed by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last.”


A BHAG is a clear, compelling and overambitious goal that leads a company out of their comfort zone toward accomplishing the impossible. It unites the workforce behind a game-changing idea, worthy of their highest creativity and energy. BHAGs are often long-term and bigger, bolder and more powerful than typical goals. They require commitment, confidence, and even a bit of bravado.

The right BHAG is a lofty vision with a deadline. It will catapult your company to a new plateau.

Jay Arthur of “Lean Six-Sigma” provides an example.

”During the second world war, when cargo ships were at a premium, Liberty ships required almost 250 days to build. As the demand increased, the builders were asked to create ships much faster. Eventually they innovated the design and building of the ship and got the average to 40 days, about 20% of the time it took when they started. This wasn't because of learning gains; it was because the U.S. had a BHAG to build ships much faster. Setting the BHAG demanded that the shipbuilders think differently, organize differently and work differently. It also created a sense of urgency to know that their work was driving the war effort. If it can be done in shipbuilding, it can be done anywhere.”

How to Create a BHAG

The steps to craft an effective BHAG include:

  1. Conceptualize it – Involve key people. Make the goal tangible, innovative, compelling, and even fun. And be sure it’s AUDACIOUS (daring, bold, risky, and practically impossible)!

  2. Test it – Is the BHAG easy to understand, communicate, and remember? Will it stretch people to perform at their best? Is it measurable? Does it have a clear finish line? Is it life changing? Will the effort be worth it?

  3. Commit to it – Get everyone in your company behind the goal. Talk about it at your power meetings. Encourage thinking and working differently. Measure and report progress. Celebrate victories. Make it part of your business culture.

  4. Systemize it — Break the BHAG down into smaller chunks or mini-goals, and then incorporate them into specific and measurable business systems (the Box Theory™ Way). Goals are only fantasy—wishful thinking—until you build them into a system or process, until the wheels of Cause and Effect start turning.

Incorporate the mini-BHAGs into your Balanced Scorecard objectives and key measures. For example, set big hairy audacious goals to increase sales per employee by 20% (productivity), reduce mistakes, defects and rework by 50% (quality), or improve on-time delivery to 99% (customer service). Reduce lead time (from order to shipping) to twenty-four hours, and so forth.

I am familiar with a builder who constructed a standard house in twenty-four hours. Now that’s a BHAG! It required different thinking, planning, and working. It was a marvel to watch. It shook the local building industry. It distinguished him from all other home builders.

Stop doing business as usual—like every other company—and “dare to be great.” Develop extraordinary goals supported by extraordinary business systems and processes. The most difficult step is the first one. Get going today. Demand immediate results. Stay the course. Seek continuous improvement. It takes time, but I promise, it will be worth it!

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." (Daniel H. Burnham, American Architect, master planner of Chicago and Washington D.C)

Now, what big plans could you implement in the next three to six months that would elevate your company—that would expand or improve products, open new markets, provide “killer customer care”, or drastically reduce waste, inefficiency and cost?

As the saying goes, “GO BHAG OR GO HOME!”


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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Innovation, Business Leader