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The Power of Big Goals

When leaders at CSL Behring set ambitious new targets, they were following in the footsteps of audaciously successful companies.

Climber takes a break from climbing hundreds of feet above the trees
A climber takes a break while tackling El Capitan at Yosemite National Park in California.

Success can be a slow, demanding climb. To get there, it helps to have some BHAGs.

“BHAG” is short for “big, hairy, audacious goal” – goals that make you stretch, goals that are not gimmes. Best-selling author and business guru Jim Collins popularized the term in 1994 in his book “Built to Last.” But of course, leaders were taking on big, bold goals long before that. Microsoft famously built itself around the BHAG of a computer on every desk and in every home," which sounded implausible in 1975.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot remains among the most cited BHAGs. With Apollo 11, it became a reality in 1969, eight years after Kennedy declared the U.S. would put a man on the moon. More recently, Google’s founders dared “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Successful companies set BHAGs, achieve them and then set new ones, Collins said. It’s critical that these goals are clear, compelling and easy to grasp, according to a visioning exercise on his website.

CSL Behring’s End-to-End Operations organization (E2E) – which oversees the company’s supply chain, from donor to patient – recently set some of its own big goals, said CSL Behring Chief Operating Officer Paul McKenzie. The BHAGs will develop a roadmap for E2E operations and ensure the E2E team is positioned to deliver on CSL’s 2030 strategy.

BHAGs focus efforts on the work that matters most to the business and aligns with our values, McKenzie said. He noted that the End-to-End Operation organization’s BHAGs are rooted in an investment in the development of our team to allow the team to deliver top-tier results for safety, quality, reliability and innovation.

“Creating BHAGs for our teams is a powerful way to make sure that we all are aligned on what projects and initiatives will make the biggest impact,” McKenzie said. “To ensure we can continue to deliver on our promise to patients and improving public health, it’s important that we all understand how and where we can add value and what is expected of every individual.”

How do you set the right goal for yourself or your team? Here’s what Collins advises:

BHAGs are bold, falling in the gray area where reason and prudence might say ‘This is unreasonable,’ but the drive for progress says, ‘We believe we can do it nonetheless.’ ” 

Hear Collins talk about the ultimate physical BHAG - climbing a literal mountain. In this case, Collins describes a duo’s attempt to scale the vertical rock formation known as El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.