The book Built to Last made popular the concept of the "BHAG"—the "Big Hairy Audacious Goal."

You know what the problem is with BHAGs? They're big and hairy.

Over the past years, I've seen a number of clients proudly unveil a BHAG. Their pride stems from the idea that having a lofty goal will encourage people to stretch, and, if they stretch, they'll achieve more than if they hadn't.

I'm all for lofty goals and stretching, but I continually see a problem, in practice, with Built to Last's BHAG. Instead of being excited and motivated by the BHAG, team members are often confused and disillusioned.


BHAGs are often half-baked and poorly communicated. What I often hear about BHAGs from employees in client companies are things like, "We can't keep up with the workload now. What will happen if we achieve this growth?" or, "I'm not sure what this means to me. What am I supposed to do to help us reach this goal?" or, "I'm not really sure what the goal is. It sounds visionary, but I don't get it."

Sure, the best performers will get it, and be motivated by it. But, let's face it. Achieving the BHAG requires more than just the top performers. It requires a broad team.

I looked back at the article where Jim Collins and Jerry Porras first mentioned the BHAG ["Building Your Company's Vision," Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996]. They defined that the BHAG must be "clear and compelling." Too bad these all-important words have been lost in translation.

I suggest we replace the idea of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal with the CCAG—the Clear and Compelling Audacious Goal.

The CCAG is just as lofty and just as much of a stretch as the BHAG. But it is more likely to be achieved, because more people will understand it and be motivated by it.

As Michelangelo said, "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it." So true—but I'm sure that Michelangelo's aim was not only high, but clear and compelling.

How clear and compelling are your organization's goals to your team members? Are these goals "big and hairy" or "clear and compelling"?

Steve Yastrow posted this on November 30, 2007, in Strategies.
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