“Where are you going and how will you get there?” Many Higher Education organizations are being asked this question by their trustees, governmental funding agencies, parents, and their students. As an ever-changing profession, this question needs to be answered by each of us. Individually, many of us never ask the question until we are faced with a crisis situation. This shouldn’t be the case.
Within residence life/ housing we are constantly in a mode of change. Resident Assistants stay within the organization for one to two years; entry-level staff depart after two to three years; and upper level management is seeing a reduction in their years of service to the organization. So how does an organization stay “on course” to meet the needs of our populations and actually be intentional about the task at hand? There are two things that organizations should attempt to accomplish on a regular basis: create/ revise their mission statement and create a strategic plan (or road map, as I call it).
When change happens it is critical for us to “control” and have an influence on it as best as possible. Sound mission statements and visions are invaluable tools for managing organizational change. They provide us with a sense of direction that can motivate individuals, help shape and define programs, and make difficult decisions about resource allocation. Strong missions and visions can help us create or respond to change in proactive, constructive, positive ways.
Most organizations have a mission and vision, but are they useful in taking the next step to strategic planning? Often the vision/mission are vague statements out of date that are not able to reflect the values of the organization. In most cases, people in the organization do not even know they have a mission or vision statement.
The following are tips that were created by an outside consultant used by our department in creating a process for mission creation:
Involvement – Everyone in the organization needs to be involved in the actual writing of the mission if it is to become “theirs.” (The process itself can be a catalyst for organizational change.) It is also helpful to involve others who have a stake in the organization’s success, but are not directly a part of it, to ask what they think is important to the future of the organization, i.e. students, faculty, and alumni.
Time – Take the time to do it well. Writing a mission statement does not need to not take a year. But involving people and gathering the right information may take as long as six months. It is a big investment, but it is worth it.
Simple – A mission statement should use simple language. If you gave it to your great aunt from Indiana, would she understand what your group is and wants to become?
Visible – Do not let your mission find a folder somewhere. Put it on posters that can be hung in offices, on desk clocks and so on. Remind yourselves and others why the organization exists.
Updated – You should not be completely rewriting the mission each year. But it is useful to review and make minor changes to it annually to be sure it is current and the organization is on track.*
Utilizing an outside facilitator is very helpful in allowing all members of the organization to participate in the process. Facilitators can come from the faculty, other departments within student affairs or a doctoral student from your institution or nearby institution.
Once the mission process is completed the next steps are to: assess “where are we now?” (reporting on the gap between the vision and reality), then to design “How will we close the gap?” (creating action plans with clearly stated goals and objectives and identifying individuals with target dates for completion) and finally “How are we doing?”, establishing a progress report with possible changes to the initial goals and objectives.
We are fortunate in the field of residence life and housing to have several tools to assist our operations with the standards for a good residence life program. The Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) has developed a very comprehensive listing of standards which should be met for all residence life / housing organizations. This tool can be obtained through the Central Office of ACUHO-I or visit their web page for more information.
The process for establishing a map for your program is very time consuming. It can also be difficult to remain focused as other tasks and crisis situations compete with the desire to think and plan proactively. The end result of having a “road map” for all staff to understand the short and long term goals will greatly assist your operation in hiring people who clearly know what the organization values and wants to accomplish. This in itself will not only make a more thoughtful staff, but should lend credibility to your organization within your institution as a group of reflective practitioners. Good luck with your plan to create success for your organization.
*Thanks to Don Haviland consultant for the process at Syracuse University for the list of tips on the Mission process.
Submitted by Tom Ellett, Director of Residence Life, Syracuse University