• Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions
The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be
by Jerold Panas
The great failing of many organizations isn’t in missing goals and objectives. It lies in not setting any to reach. Failing to reach the stars is no cause for shame. Not standing on tiptoes to grasp for them is.
Some organizations are like Jack Kerouac’s characters in On the Road.
“We got to go and never stop going until we get there.”
“But where are we going, man?”
“I don’t know, but we got to go.”
The Wadley Blood Center in Dallas was one of the largest and most respected in the country. There was a time when it served all of Dallas, most of Texas, and was a reservoir for special blood needs across the nation.
The Center was well funded, had a regular stream of blood donors, and was highly regarded by Dallas and its leadership. It was considered an indispensable community asset.
At a board meeting I attended, the CEO suggested that because Wadley was dominant in the country, it should launch a program immediately to conduct cancer research.
“We know so much about blood, and have such a large supply, it will be easy for us to move right into research,” the CEO said. He told the group it would cost about $25 million to begin the program. This could easily be done from reserves and annual operations.
The board was split. I remember Herbert Hunt (one of the Hunt brothers) was vehemently against it. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “Who did the planning?”
Hunt continued his objection. “Why are we moving into cancer research anyway? Our mission is blood.”
Someone suggested they undertake a strategic plan. Those in favor of moving forward with the research said such a plan would take too long. There wasn’t time. Some said they didn’t need it. A few even said it would cost too much (ironic since these same people were willing, with little study, to undertake a $25 million! project).
On a split vote, the board decided to proceed with the cancer research. Wadley plunged ahead. No plan, no guidelines, no restraints.
In no time at all, the Center burned through all of its reserves. At the same time, perhaps because of its split objectives, Wadley began losing its share of the blood market. Little by little at first, then suddenly the blood supply plummeted.
Several years ago, the Wadley Blood Center went out of business.
There’s a lesson here. No plan, no future. If you don’t have a roadmap, you won’t know where you’re going or how to get there.
Strategic planning, says Peter Drucker, doesn’t deal with future decisions. It defines the future of present decisions. As a staff member or trustee, your job is to have a blind date with destiny.
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