Sunday, June 7, 2009

Advancing Our Interests

I like the term 'advancement' because it suggests what must be done to advance, and in advance of, an institution's forward movement. It includes articulating an institution's particular strengths and how they relate to emerging challenges and opportunities; the building of communities of interests, coalitions, and strategic alliances; the development of moral and financial support and the stewardship of resources and those who make them possible.

The secret to keeping institutions great is to think of them not as static or fixed in a specific place or time, but moving across an ever-changing landscape toward a better place and a greater good, perhaps like a wagon train heading to a promised land. The wagon master, like the president of a complex organization, must know when to keep the wagons, or units under him or her, in tight formation, when to let them scatter, and when to circle. And wise wagon masters knows the importance of scouts; they know the terrain is ever-changing and that the coalitions that allowed the wagon train to move forward in the past may not necessarily be there in the future. They send out scouts to not only seek provisions but to study the landscape and negotiate with critical populations.

Advancement is that scouting function; it rides in front of the enterprise. It serves the organization by looking ahead, by anticipating the path forward, by figuring out where and how to secure critical resources, by being alert to and trying to mitigate potential hostility, and by building understanding wherever and whenever possible.

Wise wagon masters don't just ask their scouts to get provisions, they ask them to bring back intelligence ; they listen and make adjustments according to the information received. The best of scouts know when they can act on their own and when they must call the wagon masters forward to interpret great challenges and opportunities, to help secure important resources, negotiate treaties or reduce hostilities. And wise wagon masters respect good scouts. The collaboration is key to progressing toward the promised land.

In my next post, I'll build on this metaphor and give specific examples of an effective scouting operation and how it opens a better way forward and a better day ahead.

1 comment:

DCW said...

As a volunteer at this year's reunion, I encountered several alumni at the registration table who took a look at my name tag and asked "what is the office of advancement?"

I answered with something like "it advances the university through x, y and z."

Do you have a one or two sentence definition that you use when you get that question?