Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflection on Drucker's Thoughts on a Well-Crafted Mission Statement

For the time being I will be drawing on this site to highlight blog posts I have written on my website, gdemetrion Inquiry-Based Consulting http://gdemetrioninquiry-basedconsultinservices.info/Home_Page.html

The blog that I created for that website is titled Transformative Change Management which will focus on various aspects of organzational deveopment at the staff, team, program, or agency-wide level. As the conprehensive adult educator, my focus extends into the arena of human resource development. Posts like this will probably be of interest among tose perating programs or agencies, though with creative appication could speak to classroom teachers as well.


Peter Drucker’s book Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices provides many useful insights relevant to the nonprofit as well as the for profit sector. In fact, Drucker observes elsewhere that “successful and [well] performing nonprofits” have a great deal to teach those operating for profit businesses especially in the area of professional management and ongoing training for all staff. In this, he draws a common link in organizational life that applies to both sectors.

In the first chapter of Managing the Nonprofit Organization Drucker draws out the importance of a well-structured mission statement which he lays out in broad, but impressive strokes. His points may appear obvious, but it is in its operation rather than in its formal articulation that is critical if the mission, in fact, is going to drive the organization. In this respect it is not the elegance, but the directive of the mission statement leading to “right action.” Such action, in turn, needs to be based on what is really going on in the current operation as it relates to what could come to be if organization or work unit were effectively structured to attain its optimal potential. Such a properly aligned mission statement would be the operational engine in the attainment of core values or principles. This is what Drucker prfoposes.

Among other things the mission statement needs to be both clear and narrow in focus in which, if well- articulated, still requires much finesse in bringing the mission to successful fruition. The challenge, as Ducker lays it out, are the few things that an organization is particularly adept in carrying out which will have the greatest impact on its stakeholders. Coming to terms with the few things an organization can do well often requires abandoning things which are currently done, but which don’t have sufficient payoff to warrant continued commitment to them.

Abandoning pet projects or even time honored programs and activities if they know longer fit the current or near future term of the organization is one of Drcker’s reoccurring themes. It is essential to any sharpening of an operationally focused mission statement that empowers action rather than staying on the shelf. In Drucker’s words, “Things that were of primary importance may become secondary or totally irrelevant. You must watch this constantly, or else you will very soon become a museum piece.” The reality of this observation is apt justification for its truism, which requires a great deal of amplification in bringing mission, including a well-crafted one to the operational objectives of the organization.

I’ll use our 55+ community as an example where I serve as the President of the Recreation Club. Our by-laws contain the two primary purposes of the club:

To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community.
To promote, organize, and execute activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.
For the sake of this discussion I’ve restructured these two purposes to read as a single mission statement; namely: “To promote good fellowship, encourage sociability, and insure a friendly feeling among the residents of the community through the effective organization and execution of activities that will encourage participation by all residents, thereby furthering a harmonious fellowship.”

On the surface this may be a perfectly fine statement, which it would be if it actually reflected the motivation underlying our community life at this time. The issue is that it may not fit our current reality in terms of what the residents' actually believe and act on in our current setting, even though it may have done so in a previous era. To the extent that the current mission statementdoes not reflect the current reality, it sits on the shelf as an ideal or is simply ignored.

Part of the current reality is that only a relatively small number (20-40 out of 180) participate in community activities on a regular basis and others do when there is nothing else going on for them. That is, for most members, the club activities are a low priority. This doesn’t mean that the synthesized vision statement is not viable. It does mean that there is some substantial gap between the stated mission and the reality on the ground. This, in turn could mean that a more effective organizational structure is needed to better realize the goals embedded in the mission, or that another mission statement is needed to help the community better enact the ideals of sociability, good fellowship, friendliness, and participation in common activities that may be effectively served by another structure than a formal Recreation Club.

I won’t explore this matter here since I’m using it simply as an example. To resolve this issue we could do worse than that of applying the three “‘musts’ of a successful mission statement" Drucker lays out in the conclusion of Chapter One.

The first is that of exploring opportunities and needs. As Drucker puts it, “Where can we, with the limited resources we have,” of time, energy, and money, “really make a difference?”

The second is that of competence; that is, what are we as a community good at and able to accomplish with distinction?
The third is that of commitment; what is it we will really put our heart, soul, and energy into on a consistent and long term basis?
Drucker’s core point in this chapter is that a cogent exploration of these three conditions provides the basis for a well-constructed tightly woven mission statement with a high operational impetus. That is, it provides the directive force to the fulfillment of its embedded ideals and keeps the organization on course. By contrast, a mission statement that falls down on any of these three lever points will fail in some fundamental sense.

There is obviously more to effective operations than having a well–crafted mission statement dynamically aligned with institutional behavior. However, it is a key standard upon which to construct what Jim Collins refers to as the great organization, one built to last. Without such a framing mission, the problem of going in too many directions and not building sufficiently on core values and strengths becomes all too pervasive. This, too, is one of Drucker's core claims with which perhaps many of us can resonate.

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