wildfire magazine




Leadership is a vital organizational function. Leaders provide clarity of purpose, direct the organizations’ resources, improve efficiency, influence and motivate people, achieve goals, and guide the organization to achieve its mission. Leaders assure the organization has the resources it needs to operate, satisfy stakeholders, produce desired outcomes, and create the societal or environmental impact intended. Leaders want organizations and institutions to be effective. There exists no single definition of organizational effectiveness, so I just think of it as the degree to which an organization achieves what it set out to achieve.

Organizational effectiveness begins with a strong sense of mission, a shared understanding of the reason the organization exists, the scope of operations the organization means to pursue, what the organization intends to achieve, and how the organization aims to serve its key stakeholders. Management thinkers seem to be coalescing around the idea that a mission-focused culture influences organizational effectiveness and tends to drive organizational success. In my experience, organizations attending to their mission in a focused way are effective because they align the efforts and outcomes of the organization with the contribution to society the organization was created to make.

This issue of Wildfire highlights the IAWF position on prescribed burning. One might ask what business the association has issuing such a statement. Simply put, that’s the IAWF mission.

The IAWF’s mission is to facilitate communication and provide leadership for the wildland fire community, promote better understanding of wildland fire, communicate with the entire wildland fire community, and provide global linkage for people with shared interests in wildland fire and comprehensive fire management. That mission rests on a foundational belief that an understanding of fire as a dynamic natural force is vital for natural resource management, firefighter safety, and harmonious interaction between people and their environment.

So, in this issue, the association has taken an informed position on a contemporary, important, and at times controversial, issue confronting wildland fire communities around the world, and communicated it globally. There it is: alignment of organizational effort, outcomes, and the societal impact, or mission, for which the IAWF was established.

Organizations without a strong, shared sense of mission tend to drift off course and struggle to align their purpose with the efforts of people, the efforts of people with outcomes, outcomes with goals, and goals with the contribution to society the organization was created to make.

I have noticed that business writers and the organizations they influence have re-discovered the concept of mission, and there is a lot of buzz about mission in the popular business and leadership press these days. A quick web search reveals plenty of organizations that describe themselves as “mission-driven,” “mission-focused,” “mission-centered,” and so-on. However, for me, a truly mission-driven organization enables stakeholders to draw a direct line between the stated purpose of the organization and the outcomes the organization consistently produces. You can blah-blah about your missiondriven enterprise all day but if I can’t see, on a regular basis, a focused connection between the organization’s mission and its products, services and performance, I’m thinking “Oh . . . uh-huh.”

There are many reasons for organizations to take a mission-driven approach to organizational effectiveness, among them:

Mission-driven organizations and institutions have clarity of purpose, which prevents drift; every organizational stakeholder knows why the organization exists, its scope of operations, what it intends to achieve, who the stakeholders are, and how the enterprise aims to serve them.

Mission-driven organizations instill their personnel with a sense of identity and purpose; identity and purpose prevent drift. Increasingly, we understand that for people to truly engage in their work, they need to see the meaning and purpose of that work and sense that their efforts contribute to a larger, meaningful goal.

A mission-driven approach helps an organization’s personnel better understand the organization’s core constituents and stakeholders, and to identify, create, connect with, and serve community.

A truly mission-driven enterprise unifies the efforts of its personnel, makes sure every organizational element contributes to the same goals, and keeps organizational activity consistent with desired outcomes that achieve intent regardless of circumstances. For me, that is the essence of organizational effectiveness: alignment that consistently enables the organization to achieve what it set out to achieve.

A truly mission-driven organization is one in which stakeholders can draw a direct line between the stated purpose for which the organization exists and the outcomes that the organization consistently produces.

Organizations and institutions are effective when they consistently achieve, to a high degree, what they set out to do. In my experience, people leading highly effective organizations do a great job aligning the efforts and outcomes of the organization with the fundamental purpose for which the organization exists; in other words, their organizations are mission-driven. Achieving that level of organizational alignment requires a deeply shared, organization-wide commitment to, and focus on, making the organization’s established mission drives both its strategy and operations – and that is cultural. The organization’s values, expectations, and practices all clearly flow from the organization’s mission and both guide and inform the actions of all the organization’s personnel. That is the kind of organization in which, I, as a stakeholder, can see on a regular basis, a focused connection between the organization’s mission and its products, services, and performance. Mission-focused cultures do not just happen, and organizational culture and organizational leadership are closely linked. On this point, I have long been influenced by Edgar Schein, former professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who wrote, in his influential text Organizational Culture and Leadership, “Organizational cultures are created in part by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership is the creation, the management, and sometimes even the destruction of culture.”

About The Author

Mike DeGrosky is the former chief of the Fire Protection Bureau for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Forestry Division. He taught for the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University for 10 years. Follow DeGrosky on Twitter @guidegroup, or via LinkedIn.