Avoiding the Pitfalls of Mission, Strategy,
and Execution in the Real World
The objective of working through mission is to articulate a set of aspirations that inspire and focus the activities of an organization. The function of working through strategy is to provide the organization with a coherent and internally consistent plan that guides its operational choices and resource allocation decisions, and helps it to navigate through the competitive forces of its industry and nonmarket environments. The practical challenge is how to go from the dispassionate academic analysis of the classroom to the urgent and consequential decisions of the boardroom, executive suite, and the front lines of the organization.
As much as the frameworks and examples presented in the preceding chapters may seem clear and compelling, my experience working with real nonprofit leaders has led me to a deep appreciation of the difficulty involved in applying them to one's own organization. More specifically, over the last eight years, I have been engaged with a number of colleagues in teaching these ideas about mission, strategy, and execution to nonprofit leaders around the country.1
During the course of these executive programs, we do an exercise— admittedly, an academic one—in which participants analyze their own organization, typically in a team consisting of top managers and board members. Over the course of about eight hours, we work with them to simultaneously refine their analysis and deepen their understanding of the concepts and frameworks. In doing so, we have seen what people struggle with and what trips them up. In addition, in a number of organizations, we have seen the leadership embrace these ideas and actively use them to reshape their organizations' strategy, mission, and operations. These