Thursday, September 15, 2016

The importance of mission

There are numerous and significant "elephants in the room" across college athletics.  1) the seemingly endless parade of stories about unethical or illegal behavior happening at a too-long list of universities across the country; 2) student athlete exploitation concerns, particularly in football and men's basketball; and 3) a never-ending discussion about the need to find more financial resources coupled with criticism over how they are spent.

The common response to unethical or illegal behavior is to create more policies and procedures, call for additional oversight, and suggest we can regulate our way to better morals.  Committees and external reviewers are empowered to make recommendations and provide the appearance of action. Carefully wordsmithed statements of outrage coupled with steadfast assurances nothing similar will happen again are part of the process too.  Yet impropriety repeats itself as sure as the sun rises.

The unfortunate by-product of these incidents is additional bureaucracy, expense and lost time for the 98% of the people who do things correctly.  And there is little evidence behavior actually improves with increased regulation because when everyone becomes responsible, no one is responsible.  The elephant sneezes, and everyone else catches the cold.

I've been fortunate to have some excellent mentors throughout my career.  One in particular consistently reinforced the importance of mission in successful organizations.  The mission is fundamental for aligning action, avoiding problems and properly addressing problems that do arise.

Every athletic department has a mission.  It's your reason for existing.  It provides purpose.

Do you know your department's mission?  Have you and your staff memorized it?  If not, why not?  Most likely it's because your mission is far too lengthy - perhaps paragraphs long - for anyone to remember or recite in a meaningful manner.  A mission that long probably needs to be redone - reduced to one meaningful paragraph, or better yet, a sentence.  Stringing together lofty but meaningless word-salad phrases is a recipe for eye rolls and glazing over.

Direct, specific, unambiguous and narrow are good traits for your mission.  If you list 15 things can you really expect to do all, or any, of them well?  Simplicity of purpose radiates and makes important decisions easier - hiring and evaluating staff; accountability for performance; strategic decisions with limited resources are made easier with a clear mission and philosophical grounding.

Accountability to the mission is important.  From top to bottom, everyone should understand how their role and decision making relates to the mission.  Does everyone in your organization fully embrace your department's mission?  If not, why not?  And what are you doing to change that situation?  If someone isn't furthering and supporting the reason you exist and doesn't act accordingly, you have problems and those problems left unaddressed corrode your department from the inside. And double standards can be just as damaging.

So much of this really comes down to walking the talk, which is hard to do if you aren't clear what the talk is.

Your department, your teams and you can benefit from a mission that is memorable, simple and repeatable.  You know the elephants in your room, and so does everyone else.  Re-establishing your mission could be your first step to helping the elephants out the door.