What is our mission? Such a simple question– but it goes right to the heart of the fundamental tension in any great institution: the dynamic interplay between continuity and change. Every truly great organization demonstrates the characteristic of preserve the core, yet stimulate progress. On the one hand, it is guided by a set of core values and fundamental purpose– a core mission that changes little or not at all over time; and, on the other hand, it stimulates progress: change, improvement, innovation, renewal. The core mission remains fixed while operating practices, cultural norms, strategies, tactics, processes, structures, and methods continually change in response to changing realities. Indeed, the great paradox of change is that the organizations that best adapt to a changing world first and foremost know what should not change; they have a fixed anchor of guiding principles around which they can more easily change everything else.

Customers are never static. There will be greater or lesser numbers in the groups you already serve. They will become more diverse. Their needs, wants, and aspirations will evolve. There may be entirely new customers you must satisfy to achieve results– individuals who really need the service, want the service, but not in the way in which it is available today. And there are customers you should stop serving because the organization has filled a need, because people can be better served elsewhere, or because you are not producing results.

Need alone does not justify continuing. Nor does tradition. You must match your mission, your concentration, and your results. Like the New Testament parable of the talents, your job is to invest your resources where the returns are manifold, where you can have success.

Objectives are the specific and measurable levels of achievement that move the organization toward its goals. The chief executive officer is responsible for development of objectives and action steps and detailed budgets that follow. The board must not act at the level of tactical planning, or it interferes with management’s vital ability to be flexible in how goals are achieved. When developing and implementing a plan, the board is accountable for mission, goals, and the allocation of resources to results, and for appraising progress and achievement. Management is accountable for objectives, for action steps, for the supporting budget, as well as for demonstrating effective performance.

When you have strong performance is the very time to ask, “Can we set an even higher standard?”

Planning is the process of translating the organization’s strategic or mission goals to a set of actionable programs, and tracing the path of how those within the organization would meet the goals. In a nutshell, strategy formulation is an exercise in setting goals for the organization and developing a model of how achieving the goals would advance the strategic purpose of the organization. A plan, by contrast, is the action agenda that is aimed at reaching the goal. The biggest mistake organizations make about a “plan” is to cast it in stone as a tactical document, much like a construction drawing with all details filled in for perfect implementation. A business plan is quite different. It is an execution process that feeds back to better strategy making and goal setting. Managers shape it, guide it, adapt it, and learn from it.