In 1961 John F. Kennedy made a famous call to, “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.” Chip and Dan Heath comment in Made to Stick,
Had [JFK] been a CEO, he would have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.” Fortunately, JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO; he knew that opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people. The moon mission … was a brilliant and beautiful idea – a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.
Chip and Dan Heath also give the example of Southwest Airlines having the objective of being the lowest-fare airline around. This objective drives their strategy and makes it easy to decide issues that come up. Should their flights serve peanuts? If it increases costs such that they will no longer be the lowest-fare airline, then no.
Inc. Magazine asks,
Does your company “aim to be a leader of quality products, customer service, and innovation for tomorrow?” So do thousands of others. Sure, this statement sounds nice, but it means very little to your customers—and employees. An intelligible mission statement is essential to clarify the intentions of your business. Traditionally, mission statements are a blend of realism and optimism—two terms generally at odds with one another—and striking a balance between the two is the ultimate key to writing a great mission statement.
A cursory look across Islamic organizations reveals that many times they operate under vague objectives. Many communities face conflicts because there are disagreements over which direction to go in – directions that could seemingly be avoided if a common goal was in place beforehand.
Take a masjid for example. What is the mission of the masjid? Is it to provide a place for Juma and 5 daily prayers? Is it primarily a location for Sunday school that happens to double as a musalla? Is it to educate the community? To ‘make dawah’? Is it to be a community center?
Until these questions are settled, it will be impossible to move forward without conflict. If the masjid’s objective is to be a place for juma and prayer, then the entire purpose of its existence would preclude removing parking spaces needed at Juma in order to build extra classrooms for Sunday School. The reason that this issue is a fight within communities is because the community does not know what the masjid there really is. If the community was established primarily to have Sunday School for its children though, then its mission would dictate they build classrooms and look for an additional satellite location to offset the Friday crowd. These objectives must be clearly defined and communicated.
What if the masjid’s mission is to ‘educate the children’ in its community? The natural reaction is to build an Islamic school as part of the masjid. But how do you measure your success at reaching this objective? Is the simple existence of the school enough? If the Islamic school utilizes 80% of the community’s financial and human resources, but services between only 5% and 10% of its children, has it failed in meeting that objective? I strongly believe that it has failed in that scenario and a new strategy should be found to ‘educate the children’. This could include revamping the business model so that 75% can be accommodated, or doing alternate programs such as after-school programs. The problem we face is that “education” is not a specific goal, and we have nothing in place to measure it. This is why communities often times feel that the pinnacle is simply the establishment of the institution. This is also, perhaps, why many are blinded to any criticisms directed at these institutions. They feel that there is no other way to fill the ‘need’ that exists, and this is the only way of doing it. I should note that this is not meant to discredit Islamic schools in any way, but it is necessary that we are critical amongst ourselves to ensure that they are truly fulfilling their purpose in the best way possible.
One question that is a consequence of this discussion is what the true role of the masjid is as well. If the school takes 80% of a masjid’s resources, then would it make sense to make the school a separate entity altogether? If the masjid is meant to serve the community, what steps are taken to ensure that it is? How do we assess if educational needs are being met with the halaqahs? Is there a target attendance or curriculum that can be used to gauge if and when changes need to be made? l .;k
Masjids often have varying goals. Some are there to provide a place to pray, some want to enrich their community, some are focused on dawah to non-Muslims, some want to educate their community, and so on. The Sunday School example above provides a bit of a core conflict that can take place, but many of these examples are usually found existing side by side inside one organization. They are usually headed up by different committees. The same questions apply.
An empty (vague) goal for a masjid would be something like, “Be a positive representation of Muslims in our city.” A more concrete goal would be to develop positive relationships in the community by volunteering for social services, hosting joint events with other organizations, and so on. Essentially, it is to take that goal one step further and explain (briefly) how it is to be done.
If a committee has a goal of making dawah, then how do they measure it? What is the real goal? One committee may have an idea to pass out flyers or brochures about Islam. This is a good idea, but needs to go one step further. To consider it a success, they may say, the goal is to hand deliver at least 80% of the brochures printed. It could be to set up a table and have a conversation with at least 1 out of every 10 people that came. If the objective is met, the bar can be raised for the next event. If it was not, then they can critically assess what needs to be redone in order to make the next event a success. Another example for a masjid may be not just to hold Islam 101 courses, but to hold at least 4 of them in one year with at least 25 people in attendance for each. This makes it concrete, and it also enables people to gauge how they have done. If a committee is organized just to “make dawah” then none of this critical evaluation would ever take place.
One of the hot-button issues in our time is the empty slogan of ‘youth involvement’ in nearly every single community. How is youth involvement truly gauged? Board members get elected on the promise of involving the youth – but how is a community to gauge whether that was successful or not? Is it to have at least two people under the age of 23 involved in the board? Is it hiring a youth director? Is it having bi-monthly programs geared towards different age groups (elementary school, high school, etc.)? It could be building a gym and hosting events. It could even be a goal of having an increase in the number of youth at the daily prayers. In all of these examples, ‘youth involvement’ is simply not enough. There is no way to hold anyone accountable for meeting or not meeting that goal.
Remember the contrast between empty goals and concrete goals. There is being the ‘voice of Muslims’, ‘representing Muslim students’, ‘educating Muslims’, ‘youth outreach’, ‘dawah’, and ‘being the best aerospace company in the world’. It is another thing to, “put a man on the moon and bring him back safely in this decade.” One sounds nice, gets people positions, and provides feel good rhetoric. The other provides targeted action, results, and accountability. One keeps communities stuck in a rut, and the other provides the tools for critical self-evaluation and progress.
We’d like to hear your thoughts. What are some examples of good objectives for Muslim organizations? And how can they be measured?