As one of the benefits of working in large companies, I have had the opportunity to participate in Leadership Development and have come away with great insights in leadership and management. During one such leadership training, I came across the concept of BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It is about setting visionary goals that are both strategic and emotionally compelling.
In a previous role where I was leading a large team for a large company in India, we had the opportunity to build a Hardware Chip of greater complexity than anything we had worked on before. My peers across the globe had indicated to me that few teams were capable of delivering such a chip and I would require a lot of help. I also believed that we lacked the skills in the team in certain areas and we needed to build the capability – however, I was positive that we could deliver the product. It was around this time that I took the leadership training where I was profoundly influenced by BHAGs.
This Executive Education program shared many insights and real life examples of BHAGs. A BHAG has to be meaningful, visionary, emotionally connecting to the people and should unify the efforts of the team. It has to have an impact across the whole team and affect every member in the team. The vision was to build one of the best technical teams that not only builds a chip with minimal cost and time but also to be able to replicate the same results for all future programs. With this vision in mind, my BHAG was to deliver the chip - given the history and perception of the team - beating an already aggressive schedule with minimal cost. To meet the definition of a BHAG and to get the team energized, this goal had to be something better than any other team had delivered in the company.
A good slogan helps make the BHAG a part of the daily routine. In this case we took a goal of “shipping the FIRST chip (changed)”. In chip-design, there are 2 validation (or testing in software) phases. The first phase is during the design cycle, and work is done through simulation before manufacturing the actual silicon chip. The second phase is after you have the silicon chip in hand. The idea behind the BHAG was to find all bugs during the first phase so that one doesn’t have to re-manufacture for bug fixes after the first silicon thereby saving cost and time.
A good way to start a BHAG is to get your top 10 most engaged employees. I went over my insights from the class and what I envisioned the team to be in a couple of years. We then came up with the goal of “shipping the FIRST chip” and identified 6-7 concrete items that would define the finish line. We ensured that every team member could relate to it. I then went to the next set of 20 people and went over the vision and the BHAG. This set the momentum going. In a month the whole team was talking about and believing in “shipping the FIRST chip”.
Daily actions and decisions need to have this goal in mind. Every schedule, every milestone definition, every status tracking meeting was done with this goal in mind. This is where I have seen many leaders fail. They are excited to set the BHAG but do not follow up or follow through. You have got to eat, drink, breathe and live the BHAG every day. The team needs to feel it on a daily basis.
Three years later, we achieved the BHAG of “shipping the FIRST chip!” I am very proud of the BHAG that I set. While it took us three years to fully realize it, at the end it had given a definite sense of purpose and meaning to the team. Along the way I had found a greater meaning to my work, people, career and the industry.