In a recent conversation with one of my mentors, the discussion of mission and model came up as we discussed colleges and universities that thrive or merely survive (or not). Mission is a driving factor and is what one actually DOES…what is it that an individual or an organization is called to do to impact the world? Model is the way in which one delivers that mission…what is the shape or form in which the mission is delivered? The mission of Concordia University Texas is “developing Christian leaders,” a mission that has driven our institution for many years. Other organizational missions might speak to a certain type of experience for clients or customers…or helping people live a certain type of life…or delivering a service in a certain fashion. All organizations (and individuals) have a mission – whether they know it or not.
All organizations (and individuals) also have a model through which they deliver that mission. Again, for my institution, our model is one that is shaped by higher education and primarily delivers classes that lead toward a degree. Some institutions of higher education become even more specific in their model, focusing only on one type of delivery method (i.e. face-to-face or online). It is my belief that the model can change while the mission remains the same…and this might be necessary to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. If my model of communicating my thoughts on leadership was only through pen and paper, you might not be reading this blog. My thoughts could possibly be shared with one or two people…or perhaps several hundreds if I mimeographed*** the letter and sent it out to friends and family. However, the ability to impact hundreds of people in a very short time would remain elusive to me and I would not be living out my personal mission.
There are multiple organizations which I support in various ways who currently struggle with the issue of mission and model. A mission and model which were well married years ago is no longer working – what should change, mission or model? A mission and model that worked well for a day and age in which communication was not instant is no longer relevant…what should change, mission or model? A mission and model that made a great impact on a few number of people is no longer financially sustainable…what should change, mission or model?
I would posit that mission trumps model. Please note that I did not say ALWAYS in that sentence, for I believe that sometimes mission and model might be so inter-related that one might or should not exist without the other. All organizations (and individuals) will wrestle with this question, especially in a time that is experiencing exponentially rapid change. For leaders, the wrestling begins with being clear about the organization’s mission (and don’t underestimate the power of re-wording or changing the mission to better reflect what the organization actually does). Once that is accomplished, leaders consistently take a hard look at their current models to determine their viability…make hard decisions to change or drop current models that might not work…look for new models that might extend the mission…and scan the horizon for what might be next.
A final word of warning: the model is important, for it often has stood the test of time and has served the institution and people well. Don’t just “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Think carefully about how a new or different model will impact the mission, and be sure that mission drives the decision in choosing an altered or new model.
***for a demonstration of what a mimeograph actually is and does, watch this video