Everybody knows that to succeed in your work and personal life, you have to set goals. But the temptation is to set the bar low enough that you have a reasonable chance of not failing. For example, your goal could be increasing sales by 10 percent.
Unfortunately, that’s absolutely backward from the kind of thinking you need to achieve breakthrough success.
To transform your company, you need to set a goal that’s so big it’s a little big scary. You need to set a BHAG—a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
The term was coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
They wrote, “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.”
In addition to being clearly defined, with a measurable result and a timetable, you must also figure out the steps you’ll need to take to reach your BHAG. If you simply dream big without instilling the accountability points, it is incredibly difficult to maintain discipline.
There is really no point in setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal unless you are going to do everything you can to hit it. And then if you end up falling short, hold yourself accountable to those results, then pivot accordingly to try again.
When you finally accomplish your BHAG, whether professional or personal, it will mark a significant turning point in your story.
Several years ago, dotloop co-founder and GM Austin Allison set the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of running a marathon in 2 hours and 30 minutes. That’s only 10 minutes away from the current Olympic qualifying time. When Austin set this goal, his personal best was 2 hours and 52 minutes, and that was already 8 minutes faster than his typical time of around 3 hours.
If you’ve done any kind of running, you know that trying to cut 22 minutes off an already fast marathon time is bordering on insane.
His decision to pursue this audacious goal came after he attended the 2013 Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon as a spectator.
Austin says, “Watching that finisher cross the line in the sub 2:30 range inspired my BHAG. He proved that it was possible. Despite the fact that I was only a recreational runner, and hadn’t entered a marathon for four years, I wanted to perform like the elite. I wanted to run in the 2:30s, which at the time felt impossible.”
Making Himself Accountable
So, Austin immediately told his wife, friends, and family about what he intended to do, and then he wrote on his wall that he was going after a 2 hour and 30 minute time.
He was not sure how he was going to achieve this since he could barely run three miles at the required pace (5 minutes and 43 seconds per mile), much less 26 miles. But setting his BHAG did not require knowing how just the belief that there was a way.
Getting Help From An Expert
Austin immediately signed up for a marathon five months away and hired a coach. Then, he started getting up at 4:30 a.m. every day to train, despite extensive travel and a very busy work life. His coach put together his plan, taught him some basic disciplines around form and technique, and reinforced that this was possible by showing Austin what others before him had done to achieve the 2:30 goal.
Austin knew that one of the mental challenges with marathon running (or any goal you are determined to accomplish) is that when you are trying something that has not been done before, it’s easy to give up. Especially when that involves running at 4:30 a.m. EVERY day, rain or shine, injured or healthy. This is why it’s important to make your commitment real.
He says, “I wrote my goals down everywhere because it reminded me multiple times per day about what I said I would do. I told everyone I could, not because I wanted them to know, but because I wanted myself to be accountable to someone. I knew that I would let them down if I did not achieve my goal, which in turn would let me down.”
To prepare for the marathon, he changed his diet and daily schedule immediately. He went from running three to four miles a few times per week to blocking two hours for exercise seven days per week. This was a huge time commitment. To make it work he would multitask by using the two-hour run as strategy and thinking time. Additionally, he went from enjoying a flexible diet and a glass of wine on most nights to a very disciplined diet with almost no processed foods.
Going For It
After training for so long, the day of the marathon finally arrived. Giving it everything he had, Austin ended up cutting fifteen minutes off his best time, finishing just seven minutes over his goal at 2:37. That in itself was a remarkable accomplishment.
Austin says, “I started with a goal that seemed unimaginable, but it became a reality. Had I not picked the goal, told the world, hired a coach and run the miles, I’d still be a 3-hour marathoner.”
Here’s what he learned from the process:
If you dare to set an audacious goal, can plan out the steps to achieve it, and are willing to stay committed no matter what—you just might find out that you’re able to achieve more than you could have ever imagined.
Let’s say you have a numerically measurable goal, like increasing your gross sales by 20 percent this year. Or maybe it’s more complex, like restructuring your brokerage so your agents work in teams. Either way, you need to be as specific as possible with your BHAG, so everyone knows what you’re working toward.
1. Block Time For Your ONE Thing
Beyond having accountability points, leveraging habits to instill discipline is essential. Time blocks are one of the most basic habits that are incredibly powerful but terribly underutilized. Block time daily to spend on the most important activities. Discipline around prioritization further increases the effectiveness of those time blocks.
In his best-selling book The ONE Thing, Gary Keller highlights that there is only ONE thing that matters most at any given point in time. It’s a very simple, but powerful concept. Create the discipline to think about your priorities that way and do it daily. Make your goals real.
2. Visualize Your Vision
In an organization, visualizing your vision means posting the goals everywhere throughout the office. (Austin painted them on his wall.) It means starting every meeting by reinforcing those goals. It also means aligning every agent and staff member’s compensation and goals to the BHAG of the business. This makes it real. When it is real, and when you focus, you will achieve what you set out to accomplish.
3. Never Give Up
You should never quit what you believe in. If you quit, you are finished. If you never quit, one of two things will happen: 1) you will succeed, or 2) you will learn and grow next time.
During those times, it becomes more important that you leverage your teammates and supporters for inspiration and focus. Whether you are going after a marathon personal record or building a real estate sales business, the odds will be against you. There will always be naysayers. For every one person who believes in you, there will be 99 others who do not. You will accomplish what you put your mind to, regardless of what others may think.
In business and life, you won’t always accomplish everything you set out to do and things don’t always work out as you plan, and that’s OK. To that end, you also have to know where your commitments lie, ranked by priority, because not everything is deserving of the same treatment.
Although Austin’s marathon goal was important, his passion for his business was ultimately more important. Going into training, he knew this and had to balance the outcome against that reality.
He says, “If I was willing to give up everything else and commit 100% to running, I could have finished sub 2:30, but I wasn’t ready for that. I was willing to commit 2 hours per day for 5 months and that commitment earned me a 2:37. Although 2:37 was less than my goal, I’m still proud of where I finished in context with my life’s other priorities.”
Balancing commitment with reality and competing interests in life is an art, not a science.
At the end of the day, if you are committed to writing your own story and you are competitive, then something in you will always want to hit that goal. Ideally, you’ll hit lots of them, but life is precious, and you live only once, so maximize the time by balancing what you are passionate about and what makes you feel the most fulfilled.
Building a real estate business or running a 2-hour, 30-minute marathon is all tough work, but worth the trouble. So follow your passion and never give up.
Reaching your goals and achieving your best potential may take longer than you would prefer. It’s a never-ending journey. It may even require more sacrifice than you are willing to make. But anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
The challenge for most is that they do not want it enough to see the belief through that strenuous road to reality. Whatever you want to accomplish, you can.