One of the most important steps you must take in your planning process is to develop a shared view of your organization’s purpose. This may sound simple, but if a good discussion with the Board of Directors, staff, and possibly key partners doesn’t take place in the early phases of your planning process, you may experience significant hurdles at some point in the future – especially with regards to the deployment and/or allocation of valuable resources. This isn’t the type of exercise that is required, nor desired, at each planning retreat. However, it needs to be completed before moving forward with any goal setting and resource allocation activities.
As you develop your shared view – or shared vision. Here are some questions to ask, discuss, and then ask again:
1. What is the core purpose of our organization? If you have a specific service that has been in place for a significant period of time, you could inadvertently identify this as your primary purpose. Please be careful you don’t have your services driving your vision. Here’s an example: A non-profit has been feeding the homeless three times each week for the past decade. Is their purpose to feed the homeless? It may be. Or, it could be fighting hunger in general or eliminating homelessness. It just so happens most of their time and money has been directed to a single activity.
At first this discussion may seem a bit ambiguous. However, as you craft your Mission and Vision, clarity is critical if you are to develop a shared perspective and understanding. If a Vision and Mission chase services that are critical, yet not core to your being, organizational value may be diminished if that need becomes less relevant. Back to our example, if other food bank or shelter services significantly offset the reliance on this non-profit, that’s great from a community service perspective. But, is the underlying mission to (in this hypothetical) to fight hunger really addressed? Maybe, maybe not.
2. For organizations that have been around for at least ten years: Is the primary purpose of your existence changed? If so, how and why? This will open a discussion on how dynamic and adaptable your organization has been. It also helps you identify whether your company’s purpose is specific to a particular service or product. A purpose-driven organization is more likely to have multiple or changing services to meet a changing community. While service-driven organizations tend to focus on a very specific need. A need that could disappear in the future. As mentioned before, this may be a good thing. In fact, I think we would all agree that if hunger were resolved, most food banks would gladly go out of business.
3. Ask someone in the general public what your company does and/or stands for. How would they answer that question? Does the community’s perception of your organization align with your vision? Discuss why, why not, and if you wish this perception to change in the future. As your organization evolves over a period of ten, twenty, or fifty years, the perception you build in the community becomes your reputation and your brand. Whether it is on point with your vision or not – this perception becomes a reality when seeking funding, assistance, or publicity.
4. Are there individual personalities overriding or steering the purpose and vision of the organization? This is extra-credit, and certainly an optional question. Are resources steered away from your vision and core purpose? Are growth opportunities derailed at monthly Board and/or management meetings? A sticky subject, yet one that may need to be placed upon the table.
Start with the first three questions offered here and you will be amazed at how your discussions about the future of your organization will develop. Remember, the goal is a shared viewpoint of the direction and future of the organization. Without this firmly in place, the rest of your strategic planning may rest upon unstable ground.
Once the key decision makers for your organization have a shared viewpoint, you can move into the authoring steps for your Vision, Mission, and Values.
By Ron Woodbury
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