Mission Drift

The phrase “mission drift” means that an organization has lost its focus.  Taking a cue from NASA, leadership training indicates that the reason for a mission must be revisited every 30 minutes.  Like space capsules, people in organizations tend to “drift.”  Making sure that people remain committed to the original intention is crucial to the success of that institution.  Small corrections in word, attitude, and action are needed constantly.

“Rudderless” is another word for “mission drift.”  Caitlin Flanagan uses this word to describe California public schools in her February Atlantic Monthly article.[1] Close to one half of all California government schools have adopted curricula that now teaches students how to grow their own nutritious food.  Reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic are supposed to be threads that run through the classes.  But Flanagan quotes Theodore Sizer, founder of the Essential Schools movement, from his classic Horace’s Compromise, “Some critics will argue that the school must go beyond language, math, and science to hold the interest of the pupils . . . but a fourteen year old who is semi-literate is an adolescent in need of intensive, focused attention.”

“Enrichment programs,” such as the California gardening craze, anti-smoking, or sex education, tend to push out supposed “standardized curriculum.”  The New York Times reported that one time Catholic schools which become charter schools in Washington, D.C. are losing their original mission.  Once religion classes anchored the school day and teachers readily turned to the Bible to reinforce lessons in the classroom.  But no more.  S. Kathryn Allen, a parent leader who protested the Catholic school closings last year was quoted as saying, “When you change to a charter school, you are not allowed to do the things that make a Catholic school Catholic and that preserve our mission.”[2]

In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, Peggy Noonan asks important questions for every institution: “If you work in a great institution do you remember the mission? Do you remember why you went to work there . . . what the institution meant to you when you viewed it from the outside?”  Noonan concludes, “Turning around institutions is a huge, long and uphill fight. It probably begins with taking the one thing we all hate to take in our society, and that is personal responsibility.”[3]

But what defines personal responsibility?  Douglas Bowman’s move from Google® to Twitter® caused quite a stir in the electronics community this past year.  Bowman’s ultimate decision was based on mission drift which he defined by saying, “Without conviction, doubt creeps in.”[4] Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Without conviction, distraction easily leads us astray.  The courage of one’s convictions keeps institutions on track.  Convictions indicate someone has to care.  Staying the course is a matter of conviction.  Drifting off course happens when organizations do not constantly revisit their mission.  The latest trends will soon be yesterday’s news.  One’s mission must be based on the courage of one’s convictions.  For Prime Time America, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.

Mission Drift Moody Radio Commentary  March, 2010

Dr. Mark Eckel, now teaches for Capital Seminary & Graduate School.


[1] Caitlin Flanagan, “Cultivating Failure,” The Atlantic Monthly January/February 2010: 101-111.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/nyregion/09charter.html NYTimes March 9, 2009

[3] wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704152804574628522483219740.html?mod=djemEditorialPage

[4] http://stopdesign.com/archive/2009/03/20/goodbye-google.html

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