Admittedly, this is an unfortunate acronym.  It just doesn’t sound good.  But it is good.  A BHAG is a big, hairy, audacious goal.  Or, to put it more mildly, a “reach-goal.”  But BHAGs have a couple of characteristics worth noting that separate it from a typical reach goal.  Chief among these is that it isn’t just a super-aggressive version of what you are doing now.  It has a surprising or exciting element to it.  You may ask, do we really need to be excited by our business goals?  Like, I’m stressed out already.  The difference is, the right goal is more exciting, even exhilarating, than it is stressful.

The perhaps greatest BHAG in my lifetime was JFK’s goal of putting “a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”  Did we attain it?  Not quite,  We missed it by a year or so.  The more salient question is: are we better off for having it?  Absolutely.  Some more down-to-earth (but still hairy) goals: “two thousand stores by the year 2000,” “market share leadership in every category in which we compete,” “$50 million in sales by 2015,” “double our foot traffic in three years.”

An effective BHAG is dependent on a vision, or often a new vision. Ordinary reach goals are often accompanied by the wearying sentiment that you can’t get there from here.  A BHAG, on the other hand, demands a re-imagination of the underlying strategy.  It’s simply too big, too hairy and too audacious to get accomplished within a business as usual context.  What we used to call a “paradigm shift,” we now often call a “game-changer.”  In other words, someone changed the rules.  There’s a new conversation.  And, there’s a sociological dimension to it.  When the shift occurs, those on the inside (from the old paradigm) have everything to lose and nothing to gain; those on the outside have everything to gain and nothing (or very little) to lose.  Very often, people get squashed.  Apple, Napster, Uber.  Get it?

Some BHAGs are more audacious than others.  It begins with the goal itself.  Some demand a change in strategy or the addition of a strategy not present.  Others require human resource investments (or divestments).  Others demand nothing short of a sweeping paradigm shift.  Notably, they all demand something.  Leaders understand BHAG psychology.  In fact, BHAGs are leadership tools.  The leader says:  “let’s put a man on the moon (even though we don’t exactly know how to do this).”  The mere manager says: “lets go for a couple of extra share points this year… we need a little more effort from everyone.”  Who’s team would you rather play for?