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Mission “Tugs”

Sometimes the core battles of the board room center around mission and mission clarity. As long as those conversations are rare or occur only just before an accreditation visit or a new strategic plan, boards seem to amble along fairly well experiencing only the typical bumps in the road.

However, when a board, head and leadership team tackle a review of the mission, they can run into some major hurdles, leading to potential governance fall out. This is due simply to the passion which people bring to the table over this topic. Some feel, based on their history with the school, that they are correctly and deeply grounded in the traditions, patterns and successes of the past. They argue: “Do not lose touch with your roots.” Other boards are concerned about mission relevance and the need to send clear, more powerful marketing messages to attract full enrollment. They may be looking at least to a partial overhaul of the mission.

Powerful alumni have the ability to bring down a board when they believe that the school has moved away from core traditions which they regard as crucial to its past and future. The landscape in the United States is littered with these examples, some of which have garnered spectacular press coverage.

In the international school realm, boards are “thrown out” more often. Board revolutions here are not about preserving traditions but being more subservient to the needs of the latest arrival of families who are only there for the short run and want the school to meet their needs at the time. In these situations, history and tradition play almost no role. Thus, these boards forget that their role is to preserve the best of the past, serve the present students but to be prepared to serve the future as well. Higher turnover on international school boards contribute to a loss of institutional memory which exacerbates the problem.

The point is that mission review, often as part of strategic planning, can throw a bomb into the culture, if not managed properly. Mission review is not simply a starting point for strategic planning. It is a process in itself. It deserves that attention and one should always proceed with it cautiously. Often an objective consultant can facilitate that process so that it does not become a political football. Mission clarity and unity is an area where Littleford & Associates has helped hundreds of schools worldwide.