PROCESS POST: Mission, Vision, Strategies, Tactics, and Logistics

“We are a house of exceptional height whose purpose is to keep its inhabitants safe and dry.”

“We will raise this house so that it is impregnable from flood waters.”

“We will utilize beam and tie jacks to increase and enhance the height of this abode and build a more formidable foundation.”

Mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. These words – these objectives and means – spur a great deal of thought from me. To be most honest, I am working to discern the important differences in these words – these means and objectives. I am convinced that a school must continually strive to ensure that its people have shared understanding and shared values around these words – that when someone talks of a school’s mission, or when someone speaks of strategy and tactics, we are operating from a deep sense of mutual understanding. It’s not just semantics. Shared meaning of this language – mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics – ensures that members of a school community work together more harmoniously as a team, with less negative friction at the points of movement and change.

House Raised 2013-08-03 06.57.59

On many mornings, as Lucy (my dog) and I are walking, we venture past this house that is being raised. The house is in an area of Atlanta that floods fairly often, and I can certainly understand the homeowners investing in a different foundation system. A number of other houses in the neighborhood have done the same.

Because of my work for the past decade (in school innovation and transformation), I feel I am constantly trying to get a better handle, a better grip, on “mission, vision, strategy, tactics, and logistics.” This house – as a metaphor – is helping me do so.

As I walk past this house, I imagine what the mission and vision of the homeowners might be. Perhaps that mission or vision is represented in the quotes that opened this post. Perhaps not. I try to imagine the conversations and planning that certainly occurred among the homeowners and the experts who are lifting that house with those beams and ties. I can hear them talking strategy and tactics and logistics, and I can hear them working out a shared understanding of those means and objectives. I think how critical it must be for the workers on this project to have a shared sense of the strategies, tactics, and logistics!

Then, I begin to wonder if the owner of the lifting company talks of the mission of his/her company. I become curious if the lifting company’s mission and vision is actually more of a strategy or tactic in the view of the homeowner. I ponder how confusion over these things might result in a less than optimal house transformation. Or worse – a house toppling.

If you’re still with me, God bless you! If you’re wondering what in the world I am writing about, then I would challenge you to listen more intentionally to conversations and meetings at your school. Listen as people talk about mission, vision, and strategy. Consider how faculty and admin are approaching the tactics and logistics to achieve the strategies that will ensure success of the mission and vision. Perhaps your school’s mission is only written in aspirational terms, loose and general terms, that make strategic design a significant challenge for teachers, parents, and students. Simply listen for the words “strategy” and “strategic” and note if different people speak of the very same actions being different rungs of the strategy, tactics, and logistics ladder.

Listen as teachers talk of lesson plans and classroom activities. Listen as students respond to questions about what they are learning and why. Listen as parents discuss where the school is headed and how it plans to get to such a destination.

Try to discern when people are talking with clear, shared understanding around mission, vision, strategies, tactics, and logistics. For a school to strive for common language around these means and objectives – such effort could have significant consequences on the trajectory on which a school intends to be. Such effort around common language and shared understanding could be a real difference maker in the “if and when” a school will accomplish its mission and achieve its vision.

What’s your school’s mission? Your vision? Your strategies? Your tactics? Your logistics? In what ways are these ends, means, and objectives aligned and misaligned? When students, parents, alums, faculty, staff, surrounding community members and administrators talk of the change you are undertaking at your school, do they speak with common language and shared understanding?

6 thoughts on “PROCESS POST: Mission, Vision, Strategies, Tactics, and Logistics

  1. Bo,
    Still with you! I offer the following to perhaps spur thinking a bit more– yes, the teacher in me went to the dictionary (dictionary.reference.com)!!

    Mission: 1) group or committee of persons sent to a foreign country to conduct negotiations, establish relations, provide scientific and technical assistance, or the like; 2) the business with which such a group is charged; 3) any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed; 4) an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation; 5) a sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.

    Vision: 1) the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight; 2) the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; 3) an experience in which a personage, thing, or event appears vividly or credibly to the mind, although not actually present; 4) something seen or otherwise perceived during such an experience; 5) a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation.

    Strategy: Also, strategics. 1) the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations; 2) the use or an instance of using this science or art; 3) skillful use of a stratagem; 4) a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result

    Tactic: 1) (usually used with a singular verb ) the art or science of disposing military or naval forces for battle and maneuvering them in battle; 2) (used with a plural verb) the maneuvers themselves; 3) (used with a singular verb) any mode of procedure for gaining advantage or success; 4) (usually used with a singular verb) Linguistics a.
    the patterns in which the elements of a given level or stratum in a language may combine to form larger constructions. b.the study and description of such patterns.

    Interesting connection noted: In military usage, a distinction is made between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, of all of a nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Tactics deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat.

    Logistics: 1) the branch of military science and operations dealing with the procurement, supply, and maintenance of equipment, with the movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel, with the provision of facilities and services, and with related matters; 2)
    the planning, implementation, and coordination of the details of a business or other operation.

    I am sure that you have looked at these yourself, but what I find interesting is to read them all one after the other and forget about how we have used the terms in education. Our use of the terms has muddled them individually as well as collectively.

    Some observations– in schools, mission always seems to be associated with where/why we started but at some point gets left behind and replaced by vision and strategy– almost as if the idea is that mission is stagnant. We remind ourselves to start with mission, but doesn’t that imply it is static? Should it be?

    Vision, in my view, brings mission to life because it calls on our thoughts and dreams of possibility– exactly why we created the mission to begin with! By coupling the two together, we have the advantage of being both backwards reaching and forward-focused simultaneously. Too often, schools get stuck in the past (this is the way we have always done it!) or– just as dangerous– too focused on where we are going without any nod to why we began the journey to begin with.

    Strategy can serve as the linking pin/bridge between mission and vision– strategy makes us think about what is important and how to ensure that our actions have purpose at a higher, less “on the front line” level. Through strategy, we have the benefit of working at the 30,000 foot level– but ALWAYS with the idea of movement. Strategy ensures that mission occurs through visioning– I prefer visioning to vision as action is implied, but it won’t happen without a plan– strategy!

    Tactics and logistics to me are the day-to-day actions, learnings, meetings, lesson plans– the actual moves we make and the things we do as leaders and learners to guide/lead/foster/entice/question/stretch– the Mission-Connected-to-Vision-through-Strategy coming to life in the trenches. Too many times, we leave the Mission/Vision/Strategy at an administrative level and the Tactics/Logistics to teachers or students or parents. I love seeing examples in schools where all of these are tackled together. You are absolutely correct in your questioning the importance of us all using the same meanings of these words. Through my extremely long rambling about definition, my hope is that we all will use these meanings as they were designed outside of education first to create our own definitions within each of our learning ecosystems.

    • Angel,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough comment! Yes, and… I don’t think people at schools actually have trouble defining these five terms. I believe that people at a single school asked to define these words would do extremely well with denotations.

      My point – and maybe I made it poorly – is that members of a school community actually do these five things, thinking they are aligned in terms of M, V, S, T, and L, when rarely is there such fine-tuned alignment. Beyond definitions, as school folks (at many places) work to implement and deploy these five functions, they engage in and describe actions as one of these things, when another person would see the same action as another rung on the ladder. “One persons strategy is another persons tactic.” Magnify this by multiple people in complex networks of relationships, and I think confusion and complexity begin to fog things.

      As just one illustration, I know many schools in which each department, each division, each responsibility area has a “mission statement.” And then they talk of strategies and tactics, and mean different things – even if they would define the words in common.

      So it’s not shared definitions I am calling into consciousness. It’s shared value and shared understanding.

      Does that make any sense?

      • Absolutely! Your meaning was clear, and your comment clarifies even more. I absolutely agree that a lack of alignment is dangerous and hinders our forward thinking and movement. This is why I think that having people within a school examine what they really mean by each of these terms collaboratively is so important– just as it is critical for members of a school community to question the assumptions under which they are working or under which they think the school is designed. Collaborating can foster making connections between “this is what I think vision is and this is how I am acting on it” and so on so that one person’s strategy is not another person’s logistic.

  2. I appreciate this perspective blog post that calls attention to actually defining the fundamentals of a mission. The main point that comes to mind regarding my school is “process.” Just like our students, teachers and administrators, and parents need time to process. They need time and space to find meaning and obtain in-depth understanding of the mission, vision, strategies, and logistics. Just as people work on self-realization/self-actualization throughout their lifetime, a school that is truly authentic must continually work for the same goals. The school, in essence, is engaged in a process and getting to know itself so that it may work for the highest good of not only its students, but also for the faculty, staff, parents, and the outside community. This being the case, the mission, vision, strategies cannot be force fed to anyone. In the end, they have to come from those individuals that make it up. Because the school is an organization consisting of humans beings on their own journeys, the leadership has a responsibility to foster their growth and development. People who constitute the organization must not only have consistent opportunities for growth, but most importantly they must have the time and space for this growth to occur and for them to cultivate a common language and understanding of the school’s mission, values, and vision. Leadership can choose to put the pedal to the metal and assume the ones who are hanging on are the ones on board, or it can allow for teachers to progress at their own rate of growth and support them in their journeys. In my humble opinion, the latter approach is what will be self-sustaining and lay the solid foundation that is required for students to thrive.

    • Thanks, Jenny. I think your input about self-realization and self-actualization is right on. Additionally, I agree with you about the importance of process and collective creation and buy-in.

      At our school, relative to other schools with whom I’ve worked and studied, I see us spend a great deal of intentional, purposeful time on the mission and understanding its implications as a community.

      Like most journeys, I do think the travelers generally need to know their destination, mode of travel, desired routes, and places of deep interest. For those schools who are clear about their journey, the co-travelers help make those decisions, both explicitly and implicitly. Also, the co-travelers must decide if they intend to be co-travelers, co-explorers, co-leaders, etc. I worry most about those people who don’t know what their school is or who it wants to be.

      All of the above runs the risk of mis-interpretation via too-quickly typed text on a blog. Of course, it all requires finding a dynamic equilibrium and balance as a community undertakes such mission construction and realization together, collectively engaged, as both a whole and as an assemblage of individuals. The clearer we can be in creating shared values and understanding, the better it is for all as they discern their choice to be involved and their contributions to the desired journey/destination.

      • That is very well stated and I completely agree. I know I went off a bit of a writing tangent, but it was very centering for me to reflect on your post and my own school. Thank you, Bo.

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