The term BHAG was apparently first coined in the late 1990’s, as a form of vision statement, an ambition: the distilling of a long-term corporate goal into a simple aim, using words everyone can understand. The ‘good’ ones are simple in their language, avoiding w**k-word bingo jargon like synergy, value, stakeholders and so on.
One of my previous employers roused us from our beds into work every morning with the stirring “we will double economic shareholder value every four years” …woohoo.
BHAGs should demonstrate what the company is like, as well as what it’s trying to do. They should help everyone in every department understand what the company is about, why they exist, so that every employee can understand how they fit into the bigger scheme of things, and even enable them to challenge what they’re being asked to do by their bosses, and help them feel better about where they spend their weekdays…
Two of the more Hairy and Audacious examples are
Twitter: be the pulse of the planet
Coca Cola: within arm’s reach
What makes these so powerful is that they appeal way beyond bland corporate-speak on a far more immediate and emotional level. They have a massive scope and real ambition, and at the same time they’re immediately understandable. Martin Luther King couldn’t have led millions of Americans to The Lincoln Memorial on the back of “I will deliver year-on-year double-digit growth in coloured people‘s access to federal transportation and other services.”
Instead, he declared…
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
Or again, the day before he was assassinated…
Now I’m old enough to understand that the commercial world claims to need more certainty, more quantifiable S.M.A.R.T targets. But that doesn’t mean we have to strip the soul out of our language or excise the humanity from our ambitions. Without people, business doesn’t amount to much: people buy products made and designed by other people. If Business can’t inspire its own staff about what they’re supposed to be doing and about why they’re doing it, what hope do they have to inspire the rest of us?
Businesses have an obligation to inspire their staff to aspire to great things, to achieve great things. Whether they succeed or not, they get the results they deserve.