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Mission Creep Concepts


Steve Smith

on 9 October 2013

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Transcript of Mission Creep Concepts

Educational Outcomes
Define different types of mission creep

Challenge participants to identify mission creep in their own programs

Identify ways that programs can avert or reverse mission creep
Mission Creep

When the Tail Wags the Dog!

Steve Smith
Student Conservation Association
Mission Creep
Possibly unrecognized but ongoing willingness to engage in activities that aren't mission-aligned. May escalate over time if not corrected
Pros and Cons of Mission Creep

Can bring in revenue
Adapts to changing market
Challenges and impels staff to develop new skills

Not intentional or strategic Compromises safety, quality, systems, staff abilities, policies, screening, waivers, etc.


One-time or short-term divergence from mission - can be instigated by field staff or by administrators
Mission Creep
Mission Alignment
Mission Change
Where would you
place YOUR program
on this grid?
Possibly unrecognized but ongoing willingness to engage in activities that aren't mission-aligned. May escalate over time if not corrected
Staff are aware and focused
on mission delivery, and program activities are in alignment with risk tolerance, liability
insurance, policies, training,
and culture.
Organization makes a
conscious decision to
update or fundamentally
revise their stated mission
to better fit their program, population, market, or core values.
A youth conservation association pursues and receives grants in cities across the country to work with inner city populations (including adults) despite most of that program's policies, systems, and trainings being geared toward back-country youth programs. The programs have elements of conservation in them, but the grants also require emphasis (and reporting) on other elements such as job readiness, resume writing, and other elements that are not strictly conservation-based. The grant-providing agency selects the members based on their own criteria, not necessarily based on any interest in conservation -- this creates issues of motivation and behavioral management challenges for the field staff.
An examination of the program, website, and supporting documentation reveals alignment with mission.

Mission is aligned and balanced with risk tolerance, clearly articulated internally and externally in emergency response plans, pre-program communications about inherent risk, and outward-facing marketing materials, website, etc.

Program has drifted away from mission a few times but came back to focus on what they're good at, primarily, their experiential semester programs.
Outward Bound USA Mission Statement Revision:

Former: "To inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world."

New: "Changing Lives Through Challenge and Discovery"

Small group exercise

1) What are the elements in your program that invite or allow mission creep to happen at the field level?
At the administrative level?

2) What structures or systems do you have (or need) to keep mission creep from happening?

Action steps for YOUR program

1) You placed your program on the mission creep grid -- if you're not in the quadrant where you want to be, how will you help the program be more aligned and strategic?

2) How will you apply or share the learning from this presentation when you return to your program?

Common areas where
mission creep occurs
The mission is so broad that it allows you to do just about anything, and rules out .... nothing.
Revisit mission!
Mission not at eye level -- staff don't know it, can't say it, don't consider it as they make decisions.
Embed mission into program materials, office, job descriptions, website,
business cards, etc.
Organizational tolerance for innovation beyond scope of mission
Define roles and systems by which new programs get "mission-tested" and aligned with risk tolerance
Board or leadership too removed from program
Mission creep is un-recognized or even rewarded
Build mission accountability into specific roles and job descriptions
Find ways to engage the leadership with ground-level realities (share incident data, learning from near-misses, proactively rehearse crisis response scenarios, etc.)
Origins of "Mission Creep"
1993: Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland coined the term to describe the gradual shift in the United Nation's role in the Somali Civil War. The original mission was humanitarian relief...
"If you don't know where you're going, it doesn't matter where you go."
- Cheshire Cat
But the original mission morphed into
military operations
What near-miss,
skinned knee, broken bone, or fatality is worth incurring if the activity was not done in pursuit of
your mission?
Full transcript