Mission Drift, by Peter Greer and Chris Horst, is well worth the read. So good, in fact, it should be required reading by anyone who leads an organization – large or small – even though the authors focus on faith-based organizations. I highly recommend this book if you are a board member, in the C-Suite or a rank-and-file employee.
The premise of the book is that under most circumstances it is hard for leaders of an organization to keep mission identity through good and bad times. The bottom line is that they acknowledge organizations change and change can be good, but leaders should not run organizations that passively change when “cultural currents become swift.”
I had a “wow” moment in chapter one. Greer and Horst start off with two mission drift examples, Harvard and Yale. I was unaware of foundations on which these academic empires were built. They discussed the humble beginnings of these two institutions and cultural tides that took them on a centuries long journey, bringing them to a place 180 degrees from where they started.
Greer and Horst highlight many examples of organizations that have changed direction and have literally taken Jesus and faith out of the equation. It’s not an expose, but a history lesson. Take for example the organization formerly know as the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) founded in 1844. It drifted for years in the late 20th Century and finally relented to cultural tides in 2010 and rebranded. It went from the YMCA to “the Y.” This is another great example of what can happen to any organization.
The next “wow” moment came in chapter two: “Initially we saw Mission Drift as an organizational issue. But as organizations are made up of individuals foiled by pride and sin allured by success, we conclude that this unspoken crisis isn’t an organizational problem. It’s a human one.” This is simple, profound and quite complex.
I have a great affinity for helping others think through mission, vision and strategies. As a self-employed leadership and management consultant, I help companies define their mission, create vision and the processes to get there. I was blessed to have the opportunity to participate in planting a church – Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, Virginia. I was there from day one to help create our church mission. Our Pastor, David Hanke, had a vision and our group of 13 shared it. It was from this vision that we developed and articulated the mission on which to build our church.
Restoration is now in our fifth year, regular attendance is six times the number on our first day and David regularly reminds the congregation: “Restoration is a church that connects people to God, to others, and to the needs of the world.” We embody this mission through vibrant corporate worship, small groups, and service in our community and around the world.
Although our communal mission is clear, Mission Drift is never far from my mind. Chapter seven “Guardians of the Mission,” nailed my fears directly. The pace of mission drift can be slow or fast. As Greer and Horst lay out, “It’s the board, everything hinges on them.” In our case, it’s the vestry: The elected body of the church who oversees policies, strategies, staff and management. It only takes one person in the group to beat a drum loudly for groupthink to overtake mission-oriented thinking and ‘poof’ – the mission is drifting at a high rate of speed and there is no going back. So I very purposefully ask questions and remind the newest members of the original mission. It’s not only my brain wiring that keeps me involved and asking questions, it’s also my love for the church to ensure we don’t drift.
My one critique is that the authors could have shaved off a few thousand words – there are duplicate messages, stories and concepts. These duplications could have been replaced with more case studies on organizations that have succeeded in avoiding mission drift. Other than my desire for more, I heartily recommend Mission Drift – it’s fantastic.
Steve Brooks is President of Potomac Associates LLC, a Leadership and Management consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.
 I would have liked the authors to address how hard it is to create a mission, let alone hold on to it.