Whose agenda is it anyway?

It seems pretty obvious to say that organisations should have a clear agenda – a strong sense of identity and purpose. But how do you decide where you’re trying to go, and who you’re trying to be? Who sets the agenda for your organisation?

You do. As the leaders of your organisations, you are the ones who fix on its purpose. After all, you are the ones held accountable if you don’t achieve it. So why don’t you do it? Why don’t all leaders do it?

You may claim that all manner of people need to join in on setting the agenda. And you’re right. And then again you’re wrong. It’s a matter of degree. No, I’m not copping out, nor arguing on a technicality.

A number of groups have an interest in what you achieve, and their interest should be heard. The identity of these groups will vary depending on the nature of your organization. Your agenda setters might include: people who work for you (employees largely, but who else?); people who do business with you (as customers, suppliers or partners in formal or informal joint ventures); people who fund what you do (financiers, government departments and agencies, shareholders, and so on); people who are affected by what you do (neighbours, employees’ families, the community in which you operate). All of these people have a legitimate point of view about what they want from you.

However things start to go seriously wrong when any one of these groups gets to call the shots. It’s typically the people holding the purse strings who cause the problems. They demand that specific things are accomplished, or your funding will be withdrawn. In some cases, you can be faced with huge arrays of specifics that you have to achieve. Clearly these things are important, even vital, but they aren’t who you are. They don’t define you.

In many organisations, these external targets have been allowed to hold too much sway. The organisation becomes fearful and reactive. When targets change, the organisation struggles to deal with the impact of that change.

Contrast this with an organisation with its own clear sense of identity and purpose. This organisation accommodates external targets by making sense of the relationship between those targets and what the organisation is there to achieve.

So here’s your choice. You could be standing on your own two feet, well balanced and able to repond to whatever comes up. Alternatively you could be standing on stilts which, by the way, someone else is holding, balancing your weight on points over which you have no control, and which at any time might move. Which would you prefer?

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