Letter to the Editor: Professor calls on president to craft believable mission

To the editor:

I recently attended one of the sessions in which President Greg Dell’Omo detailed the current strategic planning process. He explained how multiple groups gathered necessary strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and other information as inputs to the process. He also presented the mission and potential edits to the Rider Promise for comments. The current agenda calls for a set of strategic plans to be drawn up, and lastly, for a new vision to be constructed.

While on the surface this may sound reasonable, strategic management scholars and experts would beg to differ. Strategic plans are a bit like a puzzle in that the disparate parts need to fit together like hand-in-glove as they depend upon each other for support.

A vision is a picture of where we see ourselves in the future. A vision is meant to point everyone in the same direction. It is meant to lead and inspire. A vision needs to be realistic in that it is based on a combination of what we do well, what resources we can muster, what changes we believe are needed and achievable, and the opportunities available in the competitive environment. An effective vision stretches and challenges people as well. In short, a vision should set us up for long-term success.

Where the vision is aspirational, the mission is our statement of purpose and is more concrete. It defines the markets we will serve, products and services we will deliver, and the values we incorporate in our identity. This mission shall then influence how we make decisions, negotiate conflict, interact with our stakeholders, and guide us toward our vision. In addition, an effective mission should, as much as possible, establish our uniqueness and be inspiring and relevant to all stakeholders.

Strategic plans should be developed with the intent of taking us from where we are today toward our vision. Plans or opportunities that are not consistent with the vision and mission should not be undertaken. Hence, the vision needs to be completed before the mission and strategic plan; it should not be created last, or based on strategic plans already made.

The administration has chosen instead (in President Dell’Omo’s words) to develop a mission and a set of strategic plans based on today. The administration’s announced plan is to develop a vision somewhere down the road, after the mission and strategic plans have been set. This is, in my opinion, backwards. The result could lead to a disconnect between plans set in motion, and where we truly want to go.

Developing a mission and a strategic plan without a vision in mind is akin to saying, “We have a week off and a full tank of gas in the car.  Let’s get ready to go on vacation, but without mentioning where we are going.” Think about it. A vacation in the mountains could require a very different set of resources and preparations than one at the beach. Making long-term strategic plans without a vision is perilous.

I call on President Dell’Omo to call a time-out in the current process to develop and articulate a compelling vision to all Rider University stakeholders.  The students, staff, alumni, faculty and community deserve to know where you plan to lead us.  The ideal situation would be one in which the varied stakeholder groups of Rider University could provide feedback on the vision set forth by the president and his team and, in the best case, the vision that develops from this consultation process is one in which all can believe, and that will then guide the crafting of Rider’s mission and strategic planning. Only then will there be unity in purpose and action.

—Lee J. Zane

Associate professor, Department of Management


Printed in the 11/2/16 issue.

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