I recently re-read the HBR article entitled "Building Your Company's Vision" by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, and I was struck by the great examples they gave to illustrate different types of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). If you are struggling to come up with a BHAG for the first time, these examples might help you get started. These may also be helpful if you are working with your team to reset after accomplishing your 10-25 year visionary goal. Don't let your team fall into the trap of complacency after reaching the mountaintop of one BHAG; celebrate your success, and then reset. Having a long term, visionary goal that aligns your team and gets everyone excited is the only way your company will continue to grow with purpose, reaching peak after peak of success.
Rhythm Blog | BHAG
by Patrick Thean and the Rhythm Team
My personal BHAG is for my 12-year old son, Jack, who is on the autism spectrum, to go to college. If you attended my session at the Breakthrough Conference, then you already have the inside scoop that we feel we will achieve this goal and are already thinking beyond college. Could he live independently? What career options would he have?
In Jim Collins' book Good to Great, he calls your core ideology "the extra dimension of enduring greatness." He puts forth the idea that a company's Core Values & Core Purpose are the things that remain constant throughout a company's existence. At the same time, the strategies and practices are adjusted and adapted to keep up with a changing world; you keep setting new BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) every 10-25 years, but your Core remains the same. Collins calls it "preserving the core and stimulating progress."
Our inaugural Breakthrough Execution Conference is in the BHAG, I mean bag! I am still on a high from the excitement, teamwork and the “ah-ha” moments. The breakout session I lead was on How to Create a Useful BHAG to Improve Performance, and one of the new clients to our Rhythm family was there. She later said:
“I had an epiphany when you said the climb up the mountain to reach your BHAG can be a hard one. Winning moves are your 3-5 year base camps to reach the 10+ year summit and there are times when you may stumble or even fall off the mountain. In the past, I have fallen off the mountain.”
“The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it” (Good to Great, p. 41)
In order to adapt to our ever-changing world, companies may have to adjust strategy and change direction to continue the journey to greatness. But, if you hire people who are only passionate about short-term goals, these people may leave when your company has to be agile and change direction. Jim Collins posits that it is more important to hire the right people and put them in the right positions in your company first; then, figure out your strategy. As Collins pointed out, the best vision or BHAG in the world without the right people to execute it will not get you very far.
Does your who do what? It sounds somewhat funny, but this is really a serious question. Many people know what these terms are, but for those that do not, here is a brief refresher. These terms come from author and management consultant Jim Collins.
I owned a company while in my late twenties that wasn’t glamorous but it was profitable - a commercial cleaning business. This was the one time, the one business where I got lucky and reached a poorly defined BHAG.
I determined that my BHAG was to grow a business large enough to sell through a broker. There was no inspiration, just the dream that a broker would find someone to buy it. This was a type of financial BHAG, and now, an approach I don’t recommend because luck is not your best strategy and without inspiration doesn't engage the energy of your team.
“Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is ‘time telling’; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is ‘clock building’” (Built to Last, p. 23).
In their research for Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras made a surprising discovery: the visionary companies they studied weren’t a platform for a charismatic leader to make his or her mark or a vehicle to bring an amazing product to the world. It isn’t about creating a product or a leader; the company itself was the ultimate creation, and the leaders and products were in the service of making the company great, not the other way around. Collins refers to this concept as Clock Building vs. Telling Time; it is building something that can endure over time rather than striking while the iron is hot only to have the business fizzle out as times change.
If you read my last blog on this subject, you were introduced to, of all things, a grocery store (Wegmans). I shared in that blog how powerful a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) can be when you truly strive to reach the summit of your stated BHAG. Another example is a company I recently worked with that provides and services high-tech equipment and supplies for people with special needs. What I noticed is that this company has a lot of the same characteristics as Wegmans, even though they’re clearly in a very different industry. Even so, there was an invisible energy in the room over the two days of their Annual Planning Session that allowed them to create an amazing plan for 2015. When I toured their facility, I encountered friendly people around every corner; all of them wanted to chat. I felt like I was strolling down an avenue of an incredibly fascinating place.