Visionary companies use big hairy audacious goals to stimulate progress.
Implementing stretch goals allows organizations to truly excel.
To drive progress, visionary companies often set themselves extremely bold objectives – so-called Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) – to which they commit utterly and completely.
BHAGs are so ambitious that they often seem unrealistic, especially to outsiders.
Nevertheless, they're also clear and tangible enough to energize and focus the organization.
A well-known example of a non-corporate BHAG is the one set by John F. Kennedy in 1961 when he proclaimed that the U.S. would take a man to the moon and back safely by the end of the decade.
At the time, this was an almost ludicrously bold commitment, but it did get the U.S. moving vigorously forward.
Boeing set many BHAGs during its history, including its commitment to developing the 747 jet.
Boeing pursued this goal single-mindedly, without ever even considering the possibility of failure.
The CEO stated that they would complete the jet even if it consumed the entire company, which it nearly did: at one stage roughly 86,000 people – some 60% of their workforce – were laid off as sales of the plane did not meet expectations.
Similarly, Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of the Computer Tabulating Recording Company, set a BHAG by renaming his company – which sold coffee grinders and butcher scales – to reflect his ambition for global status.
The new name was audacious at the time: International Business Machines (IBM).
BHAGs often take on lives of their own.
Just as the space program continued after Kennedy's death, the visionary companies studied pursued their BHAGs even as new CEOs and directors came and went.
Once a BHAG was achieved, new ones were set – always in line with the company's core ideology.
In 1969, humanity set foot on the moon for the first time.
This was a previously unimaginable, daunting feat with a high risk of failure, and it stretched NASA to its limits.
But once an organization has the necessary focus, alignment and tracking systems in place, such high-risk challenges can be undertaken.
These challenges are sometimes called "stretch goals", or BHAGs which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
Stretch goals are OkrsOkrs that are a daunting challenge to OKR contributors.
Research backs up the effectiveness of stretch goals, with studies showing that stretched employees exhibit higher levels of motivation, productivity and engagement.
But how does an organization know whether stretch goals are right for them?
Well, at GoogleGoogle , OKRs are separated into two distinct categories:
Whereas committed objectives usually have to do with day-to-day metrics such as sales or hiring, stretch objectives are all about bigger-picture ideas.
And while committed objectives are meant to be met with 100-percent success, stretch objectives at Google fail about 40 percent of the time.
Now, unlike Google, not all companies have a safety net of cash to fall back on if a high-risk stretch OKR fails.
But with enough cash on hand, stretch goals have the chance of a big payoff.
Take Google's web browser Chrome, for example.
The initial 2008 OKR behind the development of the browser stated that the goal was to make browsing the web as quick and effortless as flipping through a magazine.
The Chrome team's first stretch goal was overambitious: they wanted to get 20 million weekly users by the end of 2008.
But the difficulty of achieving this goal inspired the team to keep upping their development game and focusing on the end goal, however unreachable it seemed.
The goal of twenty million weekly users was only reached in early 2009, but that didn't deter the Chrome team from setting more stretch goals to keep up the challenge.
For 2009, the stretch goal was set at 50 million, but they only reached 38.
However, by 2010, they finally managed to meet their stretch goal of 111 million users.
Now, in 2018, Gooogle ChromeGooogle Chrome is used by over a billion people on mobile devices alone!