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What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

Carolina Starkhammar
- 17 Mar 2017
Carolina Starkhammar
What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

Many businesses dream of making their brand as ubiquitous as Coca Cola or to be one of the best companies for employees to work at. There is a distant hope that their huge goals will someday become a reality – and they can.

Most people didn’t believe it would be possible for NASA to achieve their Big Hairy Audacious Goal of ‘landing a man on the moon and returning him safely on earth’, but they did. Now, you’re probably wondering what a Big Hairy Audacious Goal is, let me explain…

The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was first proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Build to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. A BHAG is a long-term organisation-wide business goal and is in many ways similar to climbing a mountain. You pick the biggest mountain you want to climb - and commit. What separates an ordinary company from a great company is the mountain they choose to climb and how dedicated they are to reaching the summit.

A big hairy audacious goal has four characteristics

  1. It is, as implied by the name, really quite audacious
  2. It will take many years to achieve (10-30 years)
  3. You don’t know how to achieve it when you first set it
  4. It is so specific that everyone will know if it’s achieved or not

A BHAG is often regarded to be externally questionable, but internally achievable. A business needs to find a BHAG that a) they believe in; b) they have the skills to achieve; c) that will help their bottom line in the long run. A BHAG can be accomplished if the whole company work together and put all efforts towards reaching the goal – even if those on the outside doubt that it’s possible.

Imagine that you have finally decided to climb that massive mountain you’ve been gazing at for years. Where do you start? How do you prepare? Collins suggests that a good BHAG has no more than 50 to 70 percent likelihood of success. “50%!?” you might think, “I have better odds at the casino”. Yes, trying to reach a BHAG can be a scary and dangerous journey and sometimes the life of your company might depend on its success. However, if you do reach the top, your business is likely to be greater and more influential than ever before.

A good example is Sony. There was a time when ‘Made in Japan’ was a synonym for cheap goods and Sony decided to change the negative stigma around its country-of-origin. For many years Sony was committed to change the perception of its country-of-origin for the better. They succeeded with their mission and today, many associate Japan (and Sony) with high quality goods.

Research could have played an important role in whether Sony was going to reach their BHAG or not. To begin with, research could have recognised the stigma around ‘Made in Japan’ and explored how the country-of-origin influenced consumers’ perceptions of the brand and if there were any market specific differences. Later on, research could have identified opportunities or problems that had to be addressed in order to change the perception of ‘Made in Japan’. The progress could have then been continuously measured using different research methods to make sure Sony was on the right track to reach their goal.

Verve specialises in community panels, meaning we can offer businesses a long-standing relationship with their customers and measure long-term changes in their behaviours and attitudes. Very often we put that directly alongside what customers have actually done or bought, using clients’ own data. This puts us in a unique place for helping businesses achieve their long-term business goals, as well as track progress on them. Facilitating more mutually profitable relationships for brands and their customers is why we are here, not simply to build community panels or do research.

With our long-term client relationships, we can help businesses monitor the progression of the journey and help design a programme of research that ensures that all projects will bring them one step closer to reaching their BHAG. Engaging in a continuous conversation with customers, using a longitudinal research on Verve’s community panel platform, Verve can help to identify opportunities, refine ideas and optimise the way to achieving your BHAG.

What could happen if you set yourself a Big Hairy Audacious Goal?