What’s Behind The BHAG?

Jim Collins popularized the phrase BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) among strategists and business folks in his all-time best selling book Good To Great. The concepts of the BHAG actually lie in the book prior, Built To Last.

Jim theorized that the 11 companies he singled out to be great companies did certain things other companies didn’t do in order to achieve that status. One of the things they did was to have a BHAG. Something that was currently way out of reach, but not entirely impossible to attain for the company.

The thing I have noticed about people who read the book is that they tend to pull out the thing that speaks to them the most without really putting the other things in place in order to even have a chance at the BHAG.

When we work with a client, we start by rating both their strategy and execution along an axis, scoring both from 1-10. Both must grow together. A lot of folks get so excited about the strategy or idea, they burn out before ever getting grounded enough to actually get any execution. This is the “shooting star” effect, which, if done enough times repeatedly, burns associates to a crisp.

To review the strategy components Jim Collins laid out in Good To Great:

  1. Level 5 Leadership

  2. First Who, Then What

  3. Confront The Brutal Facts

  4. The Hedgehog Concept

  5. Culture of Discipline

  6. Technology Accelerators

These are the six key factors that Jim identified in each of the 11 companies in the research project that eventually became the best-selling book. These six key factors were broken down two at a time into three key categories, which I believe are the chief pillars of the whole framework.

  1. Disciplined People

  2. Disciplined Thought

  3. Disciplined Action

This framework inside a company then propels a “flywheel of momentum” to carry you toward an eventual BAHG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Good To Great is not a book to be read, it’s a book to be studied.

Key Concepts:

  1. Do you have the right people on the bus?

  2. Are they in the right seats?

  3. Do you need an executive coach who is outside the bottle to help you?

  4. Do you have a “genius with a 1,000 helpers model” or a “strong generals” model?

  5. Have you survived our current economic environment using the “Stockdale Paradox” or some other paradigm?

  6. Do you confuse a culture of discipline with being a disciplinarian?

  7. Are you using the “flywheel of momentum” or are you in the “doom loop”?

  8. Are you on the “cutting edge” or the “bleeding edge” of technology?

  9. Can you conduct autopsies without blame, or do you need outside help to get honest feedback from your team?

  10. Are you a Level 5 Leader or actually Highly Capable?

It’s important to set a BHAG, but to even have a chance to get near it in the next decade, you must develop the culture and environment to build momentum to carry you there.

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