What Is A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)? The Big Hairy Audacious Goal In A Nutshell

The notion of a big hairy audacious goal was first introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. A big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) is a clear and compelling long-term goal guided by a company’s values and purpose.

OriginCoined by business scholars James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” (1994).
PurposeA BHAG is a long-term strategic goal that inspires and motivates an organization or team. It serves as a bold and clear vision of what the organization aims to achieve, often driving innovation, focus, and commitment.
ComponentsA BHAG typically includes the following elements:
1. Ambitious Objective: A BHAG sets a significant and audacious objective that may seem unattainable at first.
2. Clear Time Frame: It has a defined time frame or deadline, creating a sense of urgency.
3. Inspiring Vision: A BHAG should be inspiring and capture the organization’s core purpose and values.
CharacteristicsAudacious: BHAGs should be daring and ambitious, pushing the organization beyond its comfort zone.
Long-Term: They are typically long-term goals, often spanning 10 to 30 years.
Measurable: BHAGs are quantifiable and come with specific metrics for tracking progress.
Examples– Google’s BHAG: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
– NASA’s BHAG (1960s): “Put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade.”
Applications– Strategic planning and goal setting.
– Motivating teams and employees.
– Driving innovation and breakthrough thinking.
Benefits– Inspires and aligns the organization’s efforts.
– Encourages a long-term perspective.
– Fuels innovation and creativity.
Drawbacks– BHAGs can be intimidating and demotivating if they are too unrealistic or unattainable.
– They may require significant resources and effort to achieve.
Key TakeawayA Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is an ambitious and inspiring long-term strategic objective that guides an organization’s efforts and motivates its members. BHAGs are characterized by audacity, measurability, and a clear time frame.

Understanding a big hairy audacious goal

The notion of a big hairy audacious goal was first introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

Several key points define a BHAG. The goal must:

  • Shift the way the company does business or how it is perceived in the industry. These goals may be audacious or innovative and be the result of out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Encourage the company to work outside its comfort zone with confidence, commitment, and even a little arrogance.
  • Require little explanation. In other words, people should understand what the company is trying to do with little effort. NASA and its mission to put a man on the moon is one such example.
  • Be aligned with organizational strategy, lest it becomes a hollow aspirational statement.
  • Be worked toward every day with a sense of urgency, even if it may not be realized for decades.

Creating a big hairy audacious goal

When companies sit down to create a big audacious hairy goal, many make the mistake of not aiming high enough.

Indeed, the goal has to be audacious enough that there is a realistic chance of not achieving it.

To counteract this tendency, it is useful to set a goal with a 70% chance of success.

This encourages the organization to be brave and take a risk, which stimulates progress and forces it to dramatically improve its processes.

With that said, below is a general framework for creating a BHAG:


An idea must first be brainstormed that will change the business, industry, or the lives of consumers.

It’s important to let go of constraints and allow imaginative ideas to be considered.

The idea must be action-oriented, innovative, compelling, exciting, and take a minimum of 10 years to implement.


Run each idea through a feasibility test to determine whether it is something the company can realistically fund. 


This may be the hardest part.

Commitment means the goal is broken down into smaller parts and work is started as soon as possible.

Progress should be monitored over the years to ensure the organization does not lose interest in its goal.

To that end, the goal should be measurable and have a clear finish line.

This motivates employees to work toward a defined endpoint.

Big hairy audacious goal examples

Here is a look at a few big hairy audacious goals from notable companies or organizations:

  1. General Electric – “Become #1 or #2 in every market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the speed and agility of a small enterprise.
  2. Walmart (1990) – “Become a $125 billion company by year 2000.
  3. Starbucks – “Become the most recognized & respected consumer brand in the world.
  4. Amazon – “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
  5. Microsoft – “A computer on every desk in every home.
  6. Stanford University – “Become the Harvard of the west.

Big Hairy Audacious Goal examples

Here are some Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) from some well-known companies.


Microsoft has a diversified business model, spanning from Office to gaming (with Xbox), LinkedIn, search (with Bing), and enterprise services (with GitHub). In 2021, Microsoft made over $168 billion in revenues, of which over $52 billion came from Server products and cloud services and $39.8 billion came from Office products and cloud services. Windows generated over $23 billion, Gaming generated over $15 billion, LinkedIn over $10 billion, and search advertising (through Bing) over $8.5 billion. 

In a 2006 conference where Bill Gates announced he would be spending more time on his philanthropic endeavors, the billionaire businessman took the audience back to when he and Paul Allen founded the company over 30 years ago. 

We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It’s been amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives,” Gates explained.


In the second example, take yourself back to 1952 and imagine you are a member of Boeing’s management team.

The company’s engineers have a BHAG to build a large commercial jet aircraft despite:

  • Zero presence in the market and several previous attempts that ended in failure. 
  • Expertise in military aircraft only.
  • Little interest in Boeing’s jet-powered product from the few commercial airline companies that did exist in the 50s, and
  • An estimated development cost of three times the company’s average annual after-tax profit for the past five years. At the time, this equated to around 25% of Boeing’s total net worth.

Despite these immense obstacles, Boeing’s vision was to “Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age.

The Boeing 707 made its maiden flight on December 20, 1957, heralding a new era in air travel.


With over $555 billion in net sales in 2021 the company operates a differentiated Omni business model with three primary units comprising Walmart U.S, Walmart International, and Sam’s Club (approximately 12% of its net sales) a membership-only warehouse clubs. Together with Walmart+, a subscription service including unlimited free shipping, unlimited delivery from its stores, and discounts launched in 2021. 

Walmart’s BHAG to become a $125 billion company by the year 2000 is one we mentioned earlier that deserves a more detailed explanation. 

While this particular BHAG is now well documented, a lesser-known fact is that Sam Walton had a history of setting audacious goals.

In 1977 he set out to reach a $1 billion valuation and then, in 1990, wanted to double the number of Walmart stores by the end of the millennium.

When the original goal of making Walmart a $125 billion company was slated in 1991, critics believed the odds of reaching this objective were slim.

Walmart had around $30 billion in revenue at the time and it was doubtful whether it could continue to grow at a suitable pace. 

Adding to these doubts was the fact that Walton had recently stepped down as CEO and handed the reins to David Glass – a man lacking in charisma who did not inspire the confidence of others.

However, history will show that Glass led Walmart to a $125 billion valuation. He even managed to pull off this Big Hairy Audacious Goal two years ahead of schedule.


Nike vision is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” While its mission statement is to “do everything possible to expand human potential. We do that by creating groundbreaking sport innovations, by making our products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities where we live and work.”

In the 1960s, Nike had a simple BHAG: “Crush Adidas”. 

At the time, Nike was an obscure company known as Blue Ribbon Sports with only one shirt and one pair of shoes in its product lineup.

Adidas, on the other hand, was the dominant player in the sportswear industry.

The two companies have been locked in an incessant battle ever since.

While Adidas retains some degree of market leadership in Western Europe, Nike is dominant in the USA and its global revenue of $46.3 billion in 2021 was almost double that of Adidas.

General Electric (GE)

BHAG: “Become #1 or #2 in every market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the speed and agility of a small enterprise.”

Achievement: General Electric’s BHAG emphasized market leadership and agility. While GE faced challenges along the way, this BHAG guided the company’s strategic decisions and transformations, contributing to its enduring presence and innovation in various industries.


BHAG: “Become the most recognized & respected consumer brand in the world.”

Achievement: Starbucks’ BHAG focused on brand recognition and respect. The coffeehouse chain has made significant strides in achieving this goal, expanding its global footprint and becoming synonymous with premium coffee experiences.


BHAG: “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”

Achievement: Amazon’s BHAG in the early days of the company aimed to revolutionize the way books were distributed and accessed. While Amazon has diversified far beyond books, this BHAG was instrumental in shaping the company’s commitment to speed, convenience, and a vast product selection.

Stanford University

BHAG: “Become the Harvard of the west.”

Achievement: Stanford University’s BHAG sought to establish itself as a prestigious academic institution on the West Coast of the United States. Over the years, Stanford has achieved recognition as one of the world’s leading universities, fulfilling its BHAG.

Key takeaways

  • A big hairy audacious goal is a clear and compelling long-term goal that requires innovative thinking. The concept was first introduced to the world by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.
  • A big hairy audacious goal must change the landscape of a business or industry and requires that employees work outside their comfort zones. These goals must also be self-explanatory and easily understood.
  • Big hairy audacious goals have been set and then accomplished by visionary companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Walmart.

Key Highlights

  • Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG): Coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, a BHAG is a clear and compelling long-term goal that shifts the way a company does business or is perceived in the industry. It encourages the company to work outside its comfort zone and is aligned with the organization’s values and purpose.
  • Creating a BHAG: When creating a BHAG, it’s important to aim high enough and set a goal with a 70% chance of success to stimulate progress and improvement. The process involves conceptualizing an innovative and action-oriented idea, testing its feasibility, and committing to breaking it down into smaller parts and working towards it every day with a sense of urgency.
  • Examples of BHAGs: Notable companies like General Electric, Walmart, Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing have set and achieved BHAGs that have revolutionized their industries and changed the way they do business.
  • Key Takeaways: BHAGs are transformative long-term goals that require out-of-the-box thinking and confidence to work outside the comfort zone. They have been successfully implemented by visionary companies, leading to significant achievements and industry shifts.

Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that motivates, encourages, and inspires employees to contribute to company growth. Leadership expert James McGregor Burns first described the concept of transformational leadership in a 1978 book entitled Leadership. Although Burns’ research was focused on political leaders, the term is also applicable for businesses and organizational psychology.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.

Leader vs. Boss

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is based on situational leadership theory. Developed by authors Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, the theory’s fundamental belief is that there is no single leadership style that is best for every situation. Situational leadership is based on the belief that no single leadership style is best. In other words, the best style depends on the situation at hand.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is a process that involves the identification and development of future leaders across all levels within a company. In essence, succession planning is a way for businesses to prepare for the future. The process ensures that when a key employee decides to leave, the company has someone else in the pipeline to fill their position.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Management vs. Leadership


Cultural Models

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Action-Centered Leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations. Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively. Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual.

High-Performance Coaching

High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership. 

Forms of Power

When most people are asked to define power, they think about the power a leader possesses as a function of their responsibility for subordinates. Others may think that power comes from the title or position this individual holds. 

Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

The Vroom-Yetton decision model is a decision-making process based on situational leadership. According to this model, there are five decision-making styles guides group-based decision-making according to the situation at hand and the level of involvement of subordinates: Autocratic Type 1 (AI), Autocratic Type 2 (AII), Consultative Type 1 (CI), Consultative Type 2 (CII), Group-based Type 2 (GII).

Likert’s Management Systems

Likert’s management systems were developed by American social psychologist Rensis Likert. Likert’s management systems are a series of leadership theories based on the study of various organizational dynamics and characteristics. Likert proposed four systems of management, which can also be thought of as leadership styles: Exploitative authoritative, Benevolent authoritative, Consultative, Participative.

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