Mission Drift

Dr. Phil –  Last month I shared the five core values that motivate us and make us tick as an organization. Just as this process is important on a leadership/organizational level, I also reflected on the importance of values on a personal level. Not knowing what is important to us, can leave us rather rudderless on the stormy oceans of life.

Greer/Horst in their book, Mission Drift, approach this from a slightly different angle. Through their study of many organizations they discovered the reasons behind why some organizations lose their purpose and mission. For instance, Why over the last 150 years has the YMCA (Young Man’s Christian Association), which was started as a bible study, become just the “Y” – a place to exercise or have an inexpensive room for the night? Or how did Harvard go from an institution which began as a place to train the next generation of Christian leaders to a bastion of liberal thought?

These are but two of many such examples. I am sure you know of others. Over time, organizations tend to lose the Why of what they do, which, by the way, can also happen at an individual level. Losing the “Why” invariably results in changing “What” we do, causing us to drift with the winds of time.

Take the example of a traditional computer company. If it focuses on the What first (“We make great computers”), then on the How (“They are beautifully designed and simple to use”) results in a Why (“Want to buy one?”) that is rather uninspiring and leads to mission drift. Another little computer company you may have heard of (Apple) begins first with the Why (“We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently”), then the How (“We make beautifully designed and simple-to-use products”) and then the What (“We just happen to make great computers – and other devices – want to buy one?”). The priority of Why over What does make a long term difference.

Starting with Why is not only important to stay on track, but it is also far more motivating. Like the two guys pounding stones. . .When asked, one said he was doing the obvious, “pounding stones,” while the other replied, “I am building a great cathedral!” Similar What, very different Why. We want to continue to focus on what God has called us to do, but in order to do that we need to have a clear understanding of why we do what we do.

ICM’s reason to exist is not, “We do leadership training” (What), by “Providing materials and workshops” (How), “Want us to train you?” (Why). Rather we begin with the Why (“We believe healthy leaders result in healthy, reproducing ministries”), which leads us to How (“We have a comprehensive model to facilitate healthy leaders and ministry teams”), and only then to our What (“We develop and provide materials to help leaders mentor others and coach ministry teams”). Paying attention to the priority is important. The Why is a non-negotiable, but How and What need to be flexible. If How and What become inflexible then the Why becomes negotiable. . . . and we lose our mission or vision.

Well that’s how we look at the mission that God has given us as an organization. I believe the take away for each of us as individuals is that we also need to look at the Why in our lives. Regardless of our daily activities, we all need a purpose that is much larger than just the What. I believe our faith gives us a great foundation to begin to make sense of that Why question.

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