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Leading into the Future II: A Tale of Three Societies

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Contemporary organizations often are both complex and fragmented. Postmodern organizations are typified by the intermingling of premodern, modern and postmodern structures, processes and procedures. We find premodern elements in the celebrations, ceremonies, and retreats that bring members of an organization together for recognition and reflection. Examples of the intermingling of modern and postmodern are even more prevalent. We find that many organizations exist as both independent, autonomous institutions that are very modern, and as interdependent collaborating members of complex consortia, partnerships and alliances that are very postmodern.

As a result of the widespread fragmentation and complexity in our personal lives and organizations, mission has suddenly become very important. Bottom line and continuing growth are no longer adequate criteria of performance for either organizations or secular institutions. Postmodern organizations need clear direction, given the ambiguity of their boundaries and the turbulence of the environments in which they operate. Postmodern organizations are usually the inverse of modern organizations with regard to mission and boundaries. They may have unclear or changing boundaries—but must have a clear and consistent mission. Such an inversion tends to counter our normal way of thinking: we are more often inclined to construct firm boundaries when the world around us (as in our current postmodern era) is turbulent and unpredictable.

Some established organizations will be able to live off their substantial resources and reputation in the near future. Most, however, will only survive if they operate from clearly articulated statements of mission that relate directly to the impact which the institution has on the life of its parishioners and other key stakeholders. An organization that defines a specific set of values and service as something needed by a specific constituency is likely to be successful in our chaotic, postmodern world. An organization that tries to appeal to a much broader audience with a variety of different services that do not hold together in a coherent fashion is much less likely to be successful. Furthermore, organizations that have clearly defined and enacted missions, coupled with a compelling, shared vision, will tend to attract attention and commitment. The resources and energy of people working inside the organization are focused—as are the resources and energy of those who support the organization.

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