Sometime back while having breakfast at a professional conference, I had a probation director stop by my table and ask if he could join me for breakfast. I, of course, responded, “Please do.”
After he had placed his order and we exchanged a few pleasantries, he took a sip of his coffee, paused for a moment and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I nodded my head and responded, “Sure, what’s your question?”
He pointed out that he was well aware of the emphasis I place on an organization having a vision (a clear picture of where you want the organization to be at some point in the future) and said, “I understand that the vision tells everyone in the organization where the organization is going and we have developed a vision. If you were me, what would your next step be?”
I explained to him that helping an organization accomplish its vision and fulfilling its purpose is analogous to planning a trip and pointed out that when you plan a trip you need to know not only where you are going, but you also need to know your starting point.
To illustrate my point, I shared with him that a number of years ago I was asked to do a series of workshops for the Heartland Juvenile Services Association. Since this was before the Internet made planning a trip so easy, I called my travel agency, gave the agent the dates I needed to travel and asked her to book me a flight to Omaha. Nebraska.
Shortly after completing that call, I received a request to speak to the Louisiana Governor’s Conference on Juvenile Justice. I called my travel agent and informed her that I needed to book a flight to New Orleans the second half of the same week I was going to be in Omaha. After a few moments of silence, she asked, “On the flight to New Orleans, are you going to be flying from Houston or Omaha?”
Just as she could not plan how to get me to New Orleans until she knew the starting point for the flight, a leader cannot plan how to help an organization accomplish its vision until he/she determines where the organization currently is in relation to that vision.
Just as this probation director would require probation officers and caseworkers to do a risk/needs assessment on each offender in order to develop an effective treatment or supervision plan, an effective leader conducts an assessment of the organization to identify the needs of the organization in order to develop a plan for its future.
Once we know where we are going (the organizational vision) and where we are (the assessment of the organization’s strengths and its needs), we can then determine how to move it from where it is to where we want it to be.
When I go to the doctor, I expect him/her to run some tests (assessment of needs) before he/she starts prescribing a course of action for the treatment of my illness. I would not expect less from an administrator who is prescribing what course of action is needed to make a strong, healthy and vibrant organization.