Strategic Plans and Mission Statements Provide Focus

It is not often that I disagree with @davidgeurin as he is an educator whom I follow on Twitter, regularly, and have learned to respect. He said:

“. . . culture isn’t made by mission statements, strategic plans . . . . School culture is built on behaviors, one action or interaction at a time. “

David is correct, of course, that cultures are built on the behavior of its people. He then said:

“It’s what people consistently do that shapes cultures.”

It has been my experience that what people do is, indeed, what “shapes cultures.” The problem is doing it  “consistently;” it is sustaining one’s focus and assuring that the message is shared throughout an organization.

While working with leaders and their organizations, across many venues, it was always disappointing to see when the underlying values that drive behavior do not penetrate deeply throughout the entity. A common pattern I would observe was how often values are shoved aside under the pressure of the daily challenges of demanding jobs, and in times of crisis.

Many leaders have been observed making verbal commitments to do this or that, or in our case, to behave and interact with people in a positive way. One after another, I’ve seen those same people drift. It is not a question of their lack of sincerity or commitment. It is simply a function of being distracted by the frenetic challenges of work and leadership. It happens to the best of us.

Building culture is also a shared responsibility and school cultures are no different. It is not just the man or woman in charge that matters, it is every member of the leadership team, however many layers of leadership there might be.

Even the most powerful message of a leader can be diluted, easily, by members of the leadership team who stray from course. It doesn’t matter what the CEO says and does if supervisors on the floor behave contrarily and tell a different story. The latter creates an alternate reality for the people of an organization and diminishes the credibility leadership. Few things are as disillusioning and demoralizing to the people of an organization as losing trust in one’s leaders.

If we are truly committed to a positive culture, we need every man and woman in the organization treating each other in a manner consistent with leadership’s message all the way out to the people on the line, in the pits, or in the classrooms. That message and associated behavior must resonate and reverberate throughout the organization and its supply chain.

This is where mission statements, strategic plans, and value statements come in. Putting one’s commitment is writing is a powerful thing and it makes reminding one another of that commitment so much easier. Mission statements, strategic plans, and value statements—no matter how eloquent—have minimal impact if they are stashed away in the principal’s bookcase or file cabinet, however. People must be able to see how those values motivate people and organizations in all things, both large and small.

Many organizations have mission and value statements etched on their walls and have copies of the strategic plans in break and conference rooms, as well as lobbies, for all the world to see.

Falling off the cultural/behavioral path is just as easy as a dieter or drinker “falling off the wagon.” We need to remind ourselves, and each other, to stay the course, relentlessly. The people of an organization, also, must be able to articulate mission and purpose as effectively as the man or woman in charge.

During a strategic planning meeting with a client, a member of the leadership team commented that all the things I was talking about were nothing more than “time-worn platitudes.” My response to him was that I prefer to think of them as the principles positive leaders utilize, daily, and remind themselves of, relentlessly.

My thanks to David Geurin for sharing his positive messages with us on Twitter, and for his indulgence of this piece.

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