4 Steps to Creating Your Company’s Strategic Business Statement (or BHAG)

You’re not a failure if you don’t achieve your goal.

Most companies adopt a certain type of goal setting to drive their business. Whether company milestones or individual KPIs, these goals are focused on one thing: growth. And even if they miss the mark, these companies still grow along the way. They’re taking small steps to make sure they’re always moving up. It’s a cautious approach — but if you want to become an industry name, it’s not enough.

Most goal setting initiatives focus on the short-term, and they’re overly practical. They generally don’t push the boundaries of what’s possible or challenge anyone’s thinking. But a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) can change that. It can get your and your team thinking on a grander scale, and more creatively than you may have with easily-attainable goals.

The BHAG was coined in “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” a research-project-turned-book about what’s in the DNA of the world’s leading companies, written by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. These types of goals are bigger and bolder than all the rest, and guides all of your business decisions going forward.

Creating, defining and sharing your BHAG isn’t an easy process. Committing to one is even scarier. But it’s also exciting to take on a huge challenge. You’ve got some knowledge and experience, but you’ll have to come up with new, creative ways to put that to work on a grander scale.

Let’s explore how you can create a BHAG from scratch for your own company. It will motivate your team to achieve things they never thought possible.

Step 1: Identify your company’s mission

Read your current mission statement over and over again. Does it accurately describe who you are and what you’re striving for? Does it reflect your company values?

Your mission statement shouldn’t be something passive. Make it pop by evoking emotion and including values you hold dear. Write it down, read it aloud and rework it until you’re certain you can stand behind it 100 percent. If you’re not committed to your mission statement, there’s no chance you’ll have the drive to chase down a BHAG.

Related: SMART Goal Setting for Your Business

Step 2: Tie your BHAG to a social purpose

There’s one element you can’t forget to include in your company mission: a greater social good. When your company’s mission is something other than self-serving, it’s working toward something much bigger, and this gets people excited.

The modern consumer no longer values price alone. They give their business to companies that have an awesome story and a great mission to support it. If you tie both of these to an overarching social issue, you have a winning story to tell. It’s your challenge to determine what that social purpose is. But once you find it, you’ll have a  better understanding of the “why” behind your business. A greater social purpose also adds emotion to your brand, and people resonate with something emotional.

Consumers aren’t focused on price and aesthetics alone. They’re looking to support a company that is working toward making an impact on the world. They want to know that their purchase also goes toward a greater cause and not just the pockets of founders.

There’s data to prove it: a 2018 report by Accenture found 63 percent of consumers prefer to purchase from purpose-driven brands.

Employees are also enticed by a business that works toward a bigger industry-wide goal. According to a PwC report titled, Millennials At Work — Reshaping The Workplace, “millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world and they want to be proud of their employer.” Today’s employees want to know their hard work goes toward a greater social purpose, not just a self-serving company initiative.

Here’s an example: I knew from the start that I wanted to provide a professional service with eco-friendly practices. The environment was always something I cared about. At a young age, I was the one in my home that nagged everyone to recycle. Working from this early passion, I created our mission statement. This helped me eventually form our company’s BHAG: zero junk entering landfills by 2025.

Step 3: Map out a goal that both scares and excites you

Think of a goal that seems ambitious for your company — something specific to your industry that is just beyond reach. When you say it out loud, you should wonder how you’ll ever accomplish it. The cards won’t be in your favor, and you’ll be doing a bit of gambling by taking this goal on. But that’s what makes a BHAG so powerful.

A BHAG should be:

  • Clear and concise
  • Aligned with your company’s mission and values
  • Constrained by time (between 5 and 30 years)
  • Measurable (data can show that you’ve achieved this goal)
  • Focused (all company efforts will be spent on this goal)

Your BHAG should stimulate the feeling you get when you’re looking at a rollercoaster. You know you’re in for a wild ride full of unexpected twists and turns, but it’s the thrill of the ride that makes you commit to strapping in.

When Bill Gates determined Microsoft’s BHAG as “a computer on every desk in every home,” do you think he knew what he was in for? He needed to look around corners and come up with new, unheard of solutions to meet this lofty goal.

I feel that same fear every time I look at our BHAG. I’ve always been working to keep junk out of landfills, but recent events like China’s ban on many recycled materials have made this more challenging than ever before. There aren’t enough recycling centers around the country to support what we need to be green. It’s riskier and more expensive than ever to be an eco-friendly company. But that’s exactly why I want to do it.

Does this scare me? Absolutely. But that’s how I know we have a good BHAG.

Step 4: Take massive action

Nike’s infamous slogan absolutely applies to your BHAG: Just do it.  

Introduce the BHAG to your team and get them excited about accomplishing it. Expressing passion for this new long-term goal will inspire your team members to get on board along with you. Your BHAG should guide all your decisions from here on out. As the train leaves the station, let your BHAG be the motivator for uniting your company to reach smaller objectives along the way.

A BHAG is born without a plan in place, so you need a methodical way to accomplish it. Start by setting objectives that support your BHAG. You can adopt the SMART plan to create these objectives. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Responsible and Timely. But don’t let them stifle outside the box thinking. Creativity is one of the things that BHAGs promote in the workplace.

Once you have these objectives defined, it’s time to buckle down.

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Your BHAG is the light at the end of the tunnel

You must remember that a BHAG isn’t just some fluffy mission for your business. It’s an unignorable goal on its way to being met, and “close enough” will not cut it.

Committing to a BHAG means that you’ll do everything in your power to meet that goal. You can expand your BHAG as your startup grows, but you can’t change it if you want to get all of its value. It’s a pillar of your business.

There’s a lot of value in setting a BHAG for your startup: Once you do, all decisions have a direction, it creates excitement in the workplace, and you align yourself with something greater. But the biggest value you get from pursuing a BHAG is motivation. With everyone working toward a higher purpose, you’ll achieve objectives you wouldn’t have thought possible. Everyone will be inspired to think, act, and achieve on a grander scale. You’ll systematically build an army that will help you take down this monster of a goal.

If you don’t achieve your BHAG, you shouldn’t feel like you’ve lost out. The experiences you’ve gained along the way are more than rewarding; they’re powerful. When you miss out on your BHAG, all you’ve lost are the inhibitions that are keeping you from greater success.

Originally published May 2, 2019.

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