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We’ve been talking a lot about “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” – BHAGs, for short. For those not familiar, from Wikipedia:

“The term Big Hairy Audacious Goal ("BHAG") was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company’s Vision. A BHAG encourages companies to define visionary goals that are more strategic and emotionally compelling.

In the article, the authors define a BHAG (pronounced BEE-hag) as a form of vision statement "…an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future."

A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines."

—Collins and Porras, 1996

Now, building your vision of the future is an ambitious, positive goal. And sometimes, it’s incredibly difficult to do. Particularly if you’re a younger business owner, the idea of planning your future that far in advance can be difficult.

Eric Kehmeier of Integrated Business Technologies in my HTG5 group and I were discussing this concept around the CompTIA training session we were participating in.   He was really having a difficult time, as he mentioned that he could do a one year and five year goal pretty easily, but couldn’t see himself in ten or twenty years. We’re both similar ages, and both married and without kids. As younger business owners, the future sometimes feels harder to describe. I tried to help.

“Are you having kids one day?” I asked. “Well, yes, we’re planning on it.” he replied.

“Great. So let me paint a picture for you. You’re standing at the University of Oklahoma about 22 years from now.  Your daughter is walking across the stage to pick up her bachelor’s degree in Communications.”

He asked “Why communications?”

I replied “Because you don’t get to pick what your kids get their degrees in. So I’ll pick for you.” After he chuckled, I continued. “Angie is sitting next to you, and you’re both very proud of her. So tell me about who you want to be on that day. What does your daughter think about her Dad?”

He paused, and told me that no one had ever drawn the future so clearly for him, and he could see that vision much more clearly. We talked more, using that image to talk about details. Did they drive there? What kind of car? What is their house like? What things was his daughter proud of her Dad for? How much time did he have for kids activities?  What kind of trips did they take for vacation? How did they pay for college? A litany of questions were hashed out, and once we had the basis for his family life, we could talk about what his business looked like at the same time.

How much money was needed to hit that plan? What did his work day look like? Was he still running that business? What did it look like? Using the basis of where he wanted to be on that day 22 years in the future, it becomes easier to picture the plan to get there.

I talk about planning a lot. A direction and a plan are vital to executing well in the business world. The challenge is often how to visualize what that plan looks like, and how you might get there. When the BHAG is an intangible target, it doesn’t live and breathe and become part of your organization. Goals and dreams that are just spoken or written down without completeness to them don’t become executed on, and don’t get the momentum necessary to accomplish them.

When the BHAG is communicated in the smile of a daughter standing on her graduation day at the man she’s proud to call Dad, it takes on a whole new meaning.