Setting and Achieving Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Setting big goals is important - it is how we accomplish big things.  Setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), as Jim Collins first called them in his bestselling book Good to Great, is one of the ways exceptional or “great” individuals and organizations differentiate themselves from the "good" ones. 

Setting big goals is especially helpful because the process of achieving them will, in and of itself, make you and/or your organization better.  BHAGs force you to focus, prioritize, work as a team, and aim higher than ever before.  

In 1961 President Kennedy set what was perhaps one of the largest BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) in history. 

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space." --President Kennedy, Address to Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25, 1961

Kennedy later said in a speech at Rice University, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,"

Kennedy knew that setting this BHAG and putting America’s commitment and ingenuity firmly behind it would help us reach new heights - heights that were literally out of this world. 

When setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, your BHAG should be:

  • You guessed it - it should be big.
  • BHAGs should be, by nature, currently out of reach.
  • True BHAGs shouldn’t be achievable today or tomorrow. They should require not only time and effort but a change in the way things are done.       
  • BHAGs require that you think outside the box to accomplish them.
  • They should require help, for example, teamwork, new staff, or moral support. If you can achieve a BHAG by yourself, even if it is a personal goal, it likely isn't big enough. 

Here are some quick steps to setting and achieving your BHAGs.  

Step 1: Identify your challenge - Knowing what your goal will accomplish is vital to archiving it.  BHAGs should be transformational goals.  You should have to change as an organization /individual in order to accomplish it.

Step 2: Set a very specific goal - Quantify your goals as much as possible, identifying and quantifying specific benchmarks that can help you reach your goal.   Write the goal down  a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, at Dominican University of California, found individuals with written goals achieved approximately 50% more of their goals than those without written goals.

Step 3: Make a plan - Put your plan down in writing. Don't worry about having all of the details set in stone at the beginning.  If you know exactly how to do it, your goal is not big or audacious enough.  Revisit, update, and revise the plan often. 

Step 4: Share your goal - Making it public is proven to encourage success.   The Matthews study mentioned above also showed that individuals who made a public "commitment" to their goal and sent regular updates about their goals to peers were substantially more likely to accomplish them.

Step 5: Benchmark your progress - develop quality data points and analytics to track your progress.   Establish some of these as benchmarks to reach on the way.  Then celebrate and share your successes of reaching your benchmarks.   Share your struggles along the way too-others might help motivate you or help you find away around a given obstacle-don't do it alone.   

Step 6: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good - Along the way there are going to be things that don’t turn out as you envisioned them.  However, if you are still making progress to your goals, let them go.  Focus on your goal and not the imperfection of the process of getting there. 

Step 7: Don't take no for an answer - There will inevitably be people that tell you it can’t be done and that you should lower or give up on your goals.  Some may even stand in your way by not supporting or even obstructing you. 

Step 8: Plan on setbacks - Set backs will happen.  Anticipate them as much as possible and plan to work around them. 

Now it is up to you to set big goals and achieve big things.  I would love to hear about them.  Let me know in the comments below about your BHAG's or email me at

Chaz Cirame is the Founder of Cc: External Affairs, Inc. 

Cc: External Affairs, Inc. – helps corporations, trade associations, public affairs firms and non-profits develop long-term partnerships to reach and exceed their goals - be they shaping public opinion, achieving legislative outcomes, or building lasting strategic alliances.