Make Goals Big and Audacious

career leadership product management Sep 01, 2021

Throughout my life, I was taught to make my goals achievable and incremental. In college, it was about getting good grades. At work, it was about getting products to market, improving customer satisfaction, or building a business case. I always met these incremental goals, but they didn’t really accelerate my growth and learning. And frankly, they did not inspire me to think big.

Then entered the BHAG. A BHAG is an idea from “Built to Last,” Jim Collins' classic business book. It means Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal – a goal that's far out of reach, but not too far. Your BHAG is your Everest; it is intended to motivate and inspire. A BHAG provides a unifying focal point to help you determine what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to as you forge ahead to accomplish your goals.

One of my mentors challenged me about 10 years ago to create a BHAG – not just a small incremental goal, but a vision of where I wanted to be and the impact I wanted to have on the world. My BHAG is about helping employees love what they do. Initially, I had no idea what this meant from a career or development perspective, but I put it out there.

Each quarter over the last 10 years, I looked at my BHAG along with the organizational goals and created a plan with my manager on how I could bring these two objectives together. It involved working on some side projects, building stretch goals, going back to graduate school, moving from product management into marketing, and then becoming a coach. My managers have been my mentors to help me continually move toward my BHAG.

The most recent step in my journey to help employees love what they do occurred six months ago here at Workhuman®, when I moved from product management into marketing. I actively worked with my senior leaders on my vision, and I am now in a role that is aligned with my BHAG and benefits the organization as well.

As managers build goals with their employees, challenge them to think big. Where do they want to be in 10 years? 15 years? When an individual has their own BHAG, their inspiration and motivation increases, benefiting the organization and the employee

Here are some critical elements of a good BHAG:

  • A BHAG is just beyond your fingertips. You want to have a long-term goal that is a bit out of reach. A useful metric is that a BHAG should be 70% achievable. It is not a goal that you can never reach, but one that inspires you to be creative to reach the goal. The sheer boldness of a BHAG is that it is a mechanism to stimulate progress, forcing you to be creative.
  • A BHAG will push you. Even if you don't reach your BHAG, it is meant to force you a bit outside of your comfort zone, much more than an incremental goal. It also pushes you to places you did not even consider in the past. For me, being a leadership coach wasn't even on my radar when I built my BHAG.
  • Success is the journey. Success is not about reaching a goal. It is the process of learning and growing. Whether you reach your BHAG immediately or not, each step toward your BHAG is a success.
  • It is tied to your purpose. A BHAG must connect to the heart and be aligned with core values and purpose. If you pick a goal without deep personal meaning, then your motivation along the way will be lower. You want to pick goals that make you feel alive and excited.
  • Think big. One of the most significant benefits of a BHAG is it gets all of us to think big. Setting long-term goals that are audacious creates urgency, passion, and motivation.
  • Make it measurable. Create inspirational KPIs that help you measure progress as you move towards your BHAG.

Without putting my BHAG out there, I would still be in my old job and company, bored, frustrated, and burned out. Chances are, I would not have built amazing market-leading products as part of my journey, nor helped leaders create amazing work cultures.

What is your BHAG? Let us know in the comments.

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