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Friday, March 2, 2012

What Is A Mission?

This is another excerpt from a manuscript on school improvement I have prepared but not yet submitted for consideration of publishers.

What is a Mission?

     A mission should be a short statement that embodies what your school is really about. Determining the critical attribute of your organization is the most difficult step in the improvement process. It’s far too easy and tempting to merely state that the primary purpose of your school is to educate children, and leave it at that. You’re going to have to be more discerning than that. Liken it to the doctor’s diagnosis and analysis. A careful insight will prevent the doctor from being misled by symptoms, and propel a persistent search for causes.

     The aim of the mission is to assert the critical attribute of the organization, the single driving force propelling the energy of the school staff. If the mission isn’t expressed in terms related to teaching and learning then you’re in the wrong business.

     Look beyond the obvious. For instance, it would be simple and quick to assume that because we work at a school our mission would take the shape of - “graduating all students.” In Making It Happen, author Alan Weiss recalled an example from two decades ago to illustrate the dissonance between what an organization thinks consumers want and what the consumer really wants. Weiss explained how sales of Kodak film increased significantly when Kodak comprehended what they were really selling.(Weiss, 27) Kodak’s advertising strategy had traditionally emphasized technical aspects of the film, like emulsion rate and speed. But, consumers generally purchased film for weddings, anniversaries, vacation excursions, birthdays,… In other words, people weren’t trying to become the next Ansel Adams, they were buying memories, not film. Kodak eventually shifted the thrust of their advertising campaign to commercials of backyard picnics, ball games, parties and the like. They began selling memories rather than film. That switch spoke volumes regarding purpose and inspiration.

     Unfortunately, although Kodak may have adeptly recovered from a misguided advertising strategy in the instance explained in the previous paragraph, they never recovered from their inability to transition from film to digital and subsequently the company filed for bankruptcy this past January. That missed opportunity will be reviewed in an upcoming Blog post when we turn our attention to the subject of organizational change.

     Another example is available in merchandising. The Swiss watch industry was experiencing a 25% downturn in sales years ago when inexpensive and easy to read digital watches entered the market and quickly began to displace analog devices. Faced with bleak prospects, an insightful manufacturer altered marketing strategies by advertising watches as jewelry or versatile accessories to clothing rather than the singular purpose of a timepiece. Swatch rode the crest of this popular wave and regained lost market share. (Peters, 231)

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