Innovator’s Journey: Lawrence Greenspun & the Strength of Your Mission

Lawrence Greenspun of the Drucker Institute shares his experience about how organizations can come together during a crisis and how a strong mission statement can go a long way.

ARTICLE | Jun 23, 2020
Lawerence Greenspun
Lawerence Greenspun

AFI: One of the things that leaders may have failed to do is look at their employees as a support system during a crisis. When they’re flustered and have a lot to tackle, how would you suggest they begin that conversation with their staff?

Lawrence Greenspun: The starting point will be, “what's your mission?” What was the mission before the crisis? That will still be the mission. Ideally beforehand you have a set of priorities and things you are doing to pursue that mission. And during a crisis, our fundamental job hasn’t changed – it’s still to pursue our mission and to provide the basic services for a city that thrives.

Now we need to reassess each department and determine what your piece of that mission is going to be. I don't care what it was in the past, but I want you to think about how your department’s mission fits within the larger mission. If you have a good mission established, the mission doesn’t have to change during a crisis. If it’s not, you establish that good mission.

AFI: We are asking city leaders to form a mission statement, get everyone on the same page, and make sure that they all agree on the mission. What would you recommend as the steps to determine what that mission is?

Lawrence Greenspun: For a city to determine what its mission is a sacred process. My process has been to go to people from every level of the organization and ask them to write down 10 things they spend their time doing. Some people will write big picture things, and some will write little details. You get smaller groups of people together and have them sort those things written down into categories. You start to see some trends – for example, each group will have categories around neighborhoods, jobs and businesses.

So, whatever our mission is, it has something to do with those three things, and we talk about what we’re doing for each – from “planning for vibrant neighborhoods” to “connecting residents to economic opportunities” to “attracting and retaining growing businesses”. From there, we draft a few different missions and have people in the organization rank the options.

In the end, everyone helped create the mission and they see specific words or ideas they played a part in. When I say it's a sacred process, what I mean is it's significant. It's a profound process and everything goes back to communication and relationships. Everybody was invited into the communication and relationship in developing the mission.

AFI: Speaking of missions, one of AFI principles for organizations is to focus on outcomes, not just output. We have missions and tasks, but how do we focus more on the outcomes of these missions?

Lawrence Greenspun: We definitely want to focus on outcomes, not just outputs. It's not “we cleaned 37% more miles of sewer lines this year”, it's that the rate of bacteria-based infections in the community dropped by 37% this year. From the beginning, you need to have customer-centered outcomes established, things that happen outside of our government entity. But don't be scared to have a good collection of outputs that imply really good outcomes in your community. Measure those outcomes if you can, but keep in mind that some things need to be measured through a combination of numbers, stories, pictures, and images – ultimately that’s how we come up with outcomes.

AFI: So, we have missions, tasks and outputs with a greater resulting outcome. What advice would you give to city leaders on how to start rebuilding, how to begin strengthening this foundation and looking at the long game?

Lawrence Greenspun: One of the ways to accomplish this is to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. I'm not saying to be like starting a business, the word entrepreneur is not related to business in any way. "An entrepreneur is the person that person who shifts resources from an area of lower productivity and yield to an area of higher productivity and yield."


When you go to establish the “new normal”, let’s be entrepreneurial. Here are our resources and let’s deploy them so we’ll get greater productivity and yield. We need to measure that work. We need to work from our strengths. We need to communicate and have strong relationships. We need to celebrate success and then we need to never be satisfied because immediately the entrepreneur will say again, "Here's what we've done. Now, how do we redeploy our resources again from an area of lower productivity yield to an area of higher productivity and yield."

AFI: As we talk about shifting and having a more innovative approach, it is crucial in any leadership role to constantly look at different solutions. What are some tangible examples of how local governments shift internally? What will be some major changes in how they operate? 

Lawrence Greenspun: Drucker talks about crisis as an incredible opportunity – it may be around innovation, but Drucker says there's a prerequisite to innovation and that's what he called “planned abandonment”. That’s thinking about what we are already doing that we should stop doing because it's not producing results. Take the capacity and resources that free up and figure out the new things to do.

Drucker said, "You can't do something new until you first stop doing something old." This crisis has caused us to stop doing a whole bunch of things we normally do. Any of them that are not missed, don't start doing them again when the crisis ends. This should be revealing things that are not essential or important.


Want to listen to even more of Lawrence Greenspun’s interview? Check out the Innovator's Journey podcast on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.


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