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http://job.sagepub.com The Mission Statement: A Corporate Reporting Tool With a Past, Present, and Future
Linda Stallworth Williams Journal of Business Communication 2008; 45; 94 DOI: 10.1177/0021943607313989 The online version of this article can be found at: http://job.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/45/2/94
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THE MISSION STATEMENT
A Corporate Reporting Tool With a Past, Present, and Future
Linda Stallworth Williams
North Georgia College and State University
This article discusses a comprehensive study of the mission statements of Fortune 1000 higherperforming and lower-performing firms to assess the current state of the mission statement. After content analysis of these firms’ mission statements, the components included for these two groups of firms were compared. The higher-performing firms included eight of the nine recommended components more often than did the lower-performing firms, and the differences were significant for three of those components. Also, using textual analysis methods, this study identified strategies employed by these firms to create a strong identity—or internal ethos—and image—or external ethos. The two groups used somewhat similar strategies for building corporate identities and images but differed in the values they emphasized and the goodwill recipients they targeted. Keywords: corporate mission statement; corporate reporting; corporate identity; corporate image; ethos
Although more than 30 years have now passed since “a furor over mission statements swept over corporate America” (Morphew & Hartley, 2006), mission statements still serve as common corporate reporting tools. Their long-term use by corporations has been characterized by significant change, however, especially in the format and delivery of these statements. For example, they are often found on corporate Web sites now. The purposes for this reporting genre have also increased and diversified, leading to some differences in the content and strategy of these statements. This article presents details about a study designed to assess the current state of the corporate mission statement by analyzing the content of statements gathered from firms included on the 2006 Fortune 1000 list. In addition, the study investigates possible links between mission statements
Linda Stallworth Williams, PhD, is associate professor of English at North Georgia College and State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Linda Stallworth Williams, North Georgia College and State University, Department of English, 82 College Circle, Dahlonega, GA 30597; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journal of Business Communication, Volume 45, Number 2, April 2008 94-119 DOI: 10.1177/0021943607313989 © 2008 by the Association for Business Communication
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Higher-performing firms included in this study discussed philosophies and targeted markets more often. For example. based on the review of literature that informed this study.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. and most highlighted values to create desirable corporate characters. This article concludes by predicting that mission statements will continue to be significant corporate reporting tools because of their lengthy history and the ongoing time and energy devoted to them by corporations and by corporate and communication experts. The findings in this study affirm the continuing importance of mission statements and show that the content components included have not changed dramatically in the past 20 years. the targets of goodwill differed to some extent: Employees. For example. and concern for employees significantly more often. most of the firms used a first-person point of view to promote identification with the firms. Furthermore. and they discussed strategies for survival. (b) scholarship that provides a theoretical basis for expecting an effective mission statement to be associated with successful financial performance. and researchers. and communities or society were listed as goodwill targets by more higherperforming firms than lower-performing ones. suggestions are made for ensuring that future research and scholarship on mission statements are more consistent and replicable. In addition. although there were some differences in the specific values included. Other findings in this study show that firms in both groups used somewhat similar rhetorical strategies for building a strong ethos. differences in content were again found. though. 2009 . scholars.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 95 and financial performance by comparing statements belonging to higherperforming firms to those belonging to lower-performing ones to see if there are differences between (a) the content components these firms included and (b) the rhetorical strategies they employed to create a positive corporate ethos—an identity or image.sagepub. concern for public image. When current statements belonging to higher-performing firms were compared with those belonging to lower-performing firms. the values of teamwork and safety were mentioned much more often by higher-performing firms than by lower-performing ones. all 27 of the mission statements analyzed included at least one expression of goodwill. LITERATURE REVIEW The extensive literature pertinent to this study includes the following: (a) scholarship that defines the mission statement genre or makes recommendations for its content. shareholders. and research to determine whether that connection Downloaded from http://job. However.
David. David. Falsey. and this definition holds true regardless of whether a corporation refers to this statement as a “mission statement. A number of others offer a similar definition (Abrahams.” or something else (Abrahams. 1991.sagepub. and McAfee (2000) define a narrower focus for a mission statement: “We view a mission statement solely as a communication tool” (p.” “core values. These statements often address multiple audiences. p. Collins & Porras. 1973. Bartkus. and beliefs are. 29). 2000. countries. 1995.96 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION can be supported by data. Pearce & David. 1991. 2000. including a firm’s management. Ireland & Hitt. & Taggar. 1991. values. 1991). Collins & Porras. 2001. 1992. 1992. shareholders. Bontis. In addition to conveying a corporation’s nature and reason for being. what its priorities. and how it is distinctive (Abrahams. Pearce & David. 1987). Mission Statement: Definitions A mission statement “tells two things about a company: who it is and what it does” (Falsey. 1987). The best mission statements simply define the company’s business and suggest a future goal. 1982). 1995. Drucker. 1995. Sanderson. 2009 . customers or clients. 29) Downloaded from http://job. 2002. employees. 3). and world where it does business (Abrahams. Glassman. and (d) studies of the mission statement as a strategy for creating a strong corporate ethos. 1992. 2007. Ireland & Hitt. Bart. how it plans to get there. 1999. p. Ireland & Hitt. Amato & Amato. 1989.. & Luffman. Bart. 1995.” “our philosophy. 1989. Collins & Porras.” a “credo. or stakeholders.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. A mission statement “tells two things about a company: who it is and what it does” (Falsey . this statement may also outline where a firm is headed. 1991. Bart. 3). (c) scholarship that develops relevant rhetorical theories or discusses applications of those theories to corporate communication. They add that most firms would be better off if they narrowed the purpose of the mission statement to that of realistically communicating product and market objectives to stakeholders. Collins & Porras.” a “mission. Klemm et al. Klemm. including mission statements. 1991. 1989. 1989. (p. Pearce. and other residents of the communities.
these guides offer somewhat similar advice about suggested content for these statements. Collins & Porras. in an article often cited in mission statement literature. Surprisingly. to inform employees about the Downloaded from http://job. or redefined the suggested components (Bart & Baetz. 1998). it has not yet been remedied. Two studies note that anywhere from 10 to 25 different mission statement components have been suggested or used (Bart. however. A corporation is encouraged to provide information about its customers or clients. its concern for its employees. For instance.. Although authors usually provide rationales for the components and labels they use. In addition. 1992). Bart et al. 2002). 2001. 1997.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. narrowed. 2009 . Ireland & Hitt. 1998). 2000. 1991.g. specifying a company’s commitment to QOL (quality of life) goals has been cited as important (Amato & Amato. For example. philosophy. 1991). Other authors have renamed. although this serious flaw in the corpus of mission statement literature has been identified before (e. markets. products or services. or its concern for its public image.” a list that is modified slightly and expanded to nine components by David (1989. 2007). 2007). Pearce and David (1987) identify “eight key components of mission statements. some researchers consider an organization’s purpose to be a subset of its philosophy and its financial goals to be a subset of its strategies for growth and survival. Bart & Baetz. self-concept. a commitment that others might place under the categories of a firm’s general philosophy. 1989. employees.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 97 Their caution about overextending the scope of mission statements is shared by other practitioners and scholars (Bart. Peyrefitte & David. organizational purpose and financial goals have been studied as content components (Bart & Baetz. even if they do not agree about the labels they assign to content components. Mission Statement: Recommendations for Content A host of resource materials have been created to assist corporations and other organizations with drafting the perfect mission statement. expanded. and strategies for growth and survival (David. Mission Statement Content and Performance: Theory Corporations are urged to create mission statements for many reasons: to assert leadership (Klemm et al. the resulting variations in terminology and definitions limit the comparability of some studies with others and decrease the long-term benefits realized when earlier studies can be conclusively replicated... technology.sagepub. Therefore. 1998). desired public image. 2006).
Klemm et al. David. 2001. In contrast. Mission Statement Content and Performance: Research Empirical evidence to support a link between corporate mission statements and performance is not plentiful or conclusive (Bart & Baetz. disseminated. Bart et al. Stone. 2007). 2007. Despite this scarcity of persuasive empirical data.. and researchers continue to be interested in studying them. they did not find significant differences between the two groups’ Downloaded from http://job. 1998. Therefore. In addition to specific benefits that are said to accrue from having such a statement. Pearce & David. Some researchers have pursued the possible link between the content of mission statements and financial performance. 1998. researchers have analyzed content to determine whether some components lead to greater results than others. it is logical to think that this demonstrated expertise will contribute to overall success for a corporation. and make informed decisions. “to guide current. The belief that mission statements can serve some or all of these purposes provides a commonly accepted theoretical basis for expecting corporations with a mission statement to be more successful than those without one. 1995. Collins & Porras.. strategic decision making” (Drohan. David. Klemm et al. 1991). 1992. to provide a rationale for allocating resources (Bart. and valued. three studies found no significant differences (Bart & Baetz. 1999). successfully completing the mission statement process demonstrates that a firm can think reflectively. Ireland & Hitt. 1998.. and this line of inquiry is important to this study. 2009 . 1991. David. When the financial performance of firms with and without a mission statement was compared. Ireland & Hitt. 2006). work collaboratively. 1987). 1989. and concern for public image—significantly more often (Pearce & David. 2000. 1998. and to inspire enthusiasm about the firm (Bartkus et al.. to serve as an effective public relations tool (Bart. and the researchers found that the high-performing firms included three of the components—corporate philosophy. 1989). but the latter study cited anecdotal evidence only. In these cases. 2001. plan carefully.sagepub. 1991. self-concept. Falsey. 1987). critical. However. mission statements continue to be developed. two other studies found that firms with mission statements did perform better (Rarick & Vitton. 1996).com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. 1998. One of the earliest studies compared the content of the statements of highperforming Fortune 500 firms to the content of those of low-performing ones. 1992). Bart et al.98 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION company’s goals and unify their efforts toward accomplishing them (Bart. Peyrefitte & David..
concern for customers. statement of company philosophy. identity of customers and markets. The other nine components that Bart found to be positively associated with performance were general corporate goals. whereas the return for the firms with “low content” statements was 13. 1998. but some of the previous Downloaded from http://job.g. The purpose and values components were again found to be associated with performance when mission statements from 136 large Canadian firms were collected and analyzed: “Significant positive differences in performance were found to be associated with mission statements which contained no financial goals. They analyzed the content of mission statements belonging to firms randomly selected from the 1994 Business Week 1000 list and determined that the return on common shareholder equity for firms with “high content” statements was 26. p.. 377). 29). asking them to identify which of 25 different content components were clearly specified in their firms’ mission statements. concern for quality. These content components had not been specifically identified or studied before. Based on a later study.. geographic domain. A “high content” mission statement included more of the following components: concern for public image. and differentiation from competition. concern for survival. After tabulating their responses.2%. 2001. 845). and concern for survival. p. He surveyed CEOs and presidents from 44 industrial corporations. identity of products and services. self-concept.7% (Rarick & Vitton. firms with mission statements. 2009 . defined a firm’s purpose. somewhat similar results were reported by Bart (1997).S. by studying data collected from 83 large Canadian and U. concern for suppliers. growth. profitability. concern for shareholders.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. commitment to survival. ones with clearly specified ends and means. Finally. identified a firm’s values/beliefs. although Bart (1997) used different labels in some cases (e. Four of these components—purpose.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 99 inclusion of the other five components: customers or markets. researchers also concluded that effective content caused mission statements to be positively associated with financial performance. p. and were relatively short” (Bart & Baetz. product or service. and desired public image—had been identified as significant by Pearce and David (1987) as well. “can affect financial performance” (Bart et al.sagepub. 12). concern for society. Bart compared the “performance of the industrial firms based on each mission component” and found that 13 of the 25 components had a “positive relationship with performance” (p. 1995. purpose and values rather than philosophy). researchers found that statements with sound content. and competitive strategy. Using a different sample of industrial firms and a method other than content analysis. technology. values. statement of vision. concern for employees.
keep goodwill.sagepub. image. increasing numbers of scholars and researchers are choosing to use the term corporate ethos because rhetorical theory provides a sound theoretical basis for understanding the concept of ethos and why it matters to communicators who wish to persuade their audiences (e. 1991. then the efforts of those communicators have been wasted. or believing it is a contributing member of a community or society—then the efforts of those communicators have been wasted. “Persuasion. Cross. public image. whether it’s trying to create an image. However. buying its stock or products. philosophy.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. If corporate communicators cannot persuade their constituencies to read their mission statements and respond to them appropriately .g. Stoddard. .000 years ago as a guide to persuasive public speaking. 1995). the underlying goal of most corporate correspondence. Instead. Kallendorf & Kallendorf. 1985. written some 2. the ability to win over an audience and inspire action is. other terms (e.. Hyland. competitive strategy. one of the earliest authorities on persuasion: “In his Rhetoric. 1991. As Cross (1991) points out. 3). he describes techniques that remain essential to persuasion and that offer important guidelines in the modern age” Downloaded from http://job. 1998. 1985. The term ethos originated with Aristotle. identity) have been used to describe the way that a corporation wants to be perceived by its constituencies.g. . or concern for survival and profitability components. Mission Statement Content and Corporate Ethos: Rhetorical Theory None of the literature reviewed thus far has used the term corporate ethos in connection with mission statements. or collect an overdue bill” (p. Mission statements are decidedly persuasive: If corporate communicators cannot persuade their constituencies to read their mission statements and respond to them appropriately—whether that means faithfully working for the corporation.100 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION researchers could have categorized ends and means as information belonging to the goals.. 2009 . Swales & Rogers. after all. Beason.
As a rule. He stresses the importance of intelligence (i. The other two appeals are logos—strategies to reason with people—and pathos—strategies to stir their emotions. 1985). 92). 1991. p. and what is to be held inviolate. Collins and Porras (1991) delineate the kinds of information that might be included: Core values and beliefs are the organization’s basic precepts about what is important in both business and life. knowledge.sagepub. 91) says that a communicator should “evince the right character. In addition. p. the second aspect of ethos. and expertise) because of its crucial impact on credibility. However. good sense. 35) Downloaded from http://job. Therefore. and good will” (p. it is providing evidence of its expertise. the writing style. and it is the most pertinent to this study. 2009 . for whatever reason. about the qualifications of its management and employees. In Book I of his Rhetoric. Aristotle (1932. the process of carefully shaping and communicating an admirable and appealing character is similar whether the communicator is an individual or a group. the way the world works. of course. Applying this principle to corporate communicators suggests that including in a mission statement the values considered most important to a corporation and its audiences can strengthen a corporation’s ethos. 330). 3). rather than an organizational entity such as a modern corporation. Nevertheless. communicators are not taken seriously if an audience perceives that they are uninformed. 1995). organization. its view of humanity. Aristotle (1932) identifies three components of ethos: “intelligence. Aristotle discusses ethos as one of three appeals available to a communicator who wishes to persuade. 1991. Aristotle considered ethos to be the most important of these appeals. Although going to great lengths to explore logos and pathos. Aristotle aimed to educate the individual communicator. When discussing character.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. when a mission statement provides accurate and timely information about the products or services a firm sells.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 101 (Cross. or about methods and procedures it uses to gain a competitive edge.” Doing so requires that communicators understand the differences between virtues and vices and that they know the “characteristics and qualities that are valued by an audience and community” (Beason. character. its role in society. Aristotle discusses a number of strategies for formulating arguments that influence audiences. and visual rhetoric of a mission statement can show a firm’s knowledge and skills (Stoddard.. p.e. The kind of logically developed arguments that Aristotle prescribes are almost never included in mission statements because this genre rarely provides support or evidence for the general pronouncements and claims made (Swales & Rogers. how business should be conducted. (p.
As part of an extended discussion of contemporary applications of Aristotelian theory. a corporation can strengthen its ethos by stating in its mission statement that it values integrity and honors ethical standards on a daily basis. p. a manufacturing firm that must dispose of toxic wastes can help to dispel the fears of residents living near that business by pledging the firm’s commitment to safe practices that protect the people and environments where it does business.” Cheney (1983) explains how the identification process works within organizations like corporations: Downloaded from http://job. 1991). Stoddard (1985) reminds us that ethos is not situated exclusively in corporate discourse (or discourse from any source) but relies on the audience’s cooperation in meaning-making. 1991. 1991). Therefore. carefully shaping the presentation of the character of a corporation in keeping with the values of its audiences can appeal to “similitude” (Beason.” benefits often result because “almost all people are more likely to accept and trust a communicator who is perceived as being ‘one of them’ since such commonality gives the impression that communicator and audience share backgrounds. the specific context or environment. capable corporate communicators have the power of words and other rhetorical strategies at their disposal when attempting to create “the right character. 1983. Swales & Rogers. Furthermore. Using “we” (or other first-person-plural pronouns) is a way to join a communicator and audience. the purpose for the communication.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. 1991. Therefore. In addition. p. Building on the same theoretical basis that supports the concept of similitude. and so on (Stoddard.sagepub. 331). Drawing on Kenneth Burke’s “rhetoric of identification. 1991. When communicators “point out similarities between themselves and their audiences. ethics scandals in recent years have heightened the public’s concerns about corporate honesty and ethics. p. thereby portraying itself as a corporation with a good conscience. For instance. other scholars focus on the use of first-person-plural pronouns to encourage internal stakeholders—employees—to identify with a corporation (Cheney.” but these strategies must be carefully chosen based on a clear assessment of all parts of the rhetorical situation. thereby “claiming group membership with that audience” (Beason. 331). Otherwise.102 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION The starting point should be to articulate values and beliefs that the corporation already considers important or commits to adopting before deciding to showcase the values and beliefs it shares with its audiences (Collins & Porras. including the characteristics of the audience. 1985). and values” (Beason. the corporation’s ethos will suffer if its pronouncements are determined to be hollow and insincere (Collins & Porras. 1995). goals. 2009 . 331).
. doing “what’s best” for the organization. the “move” is often encouraged by the organization in dealing with the member.e. . 1995. For example. 75) In all of these cases. Aristotle discusses this concept in Book II as a part of a lengthy discussion of human emotions. . the result would more likely be an intrinsically motivated shareholder group. The organization “initiates” this inducement process by communicating its values. . Aristotle says that speakers should portray themselves as people of goodwill who show good intentions toward their audiences. suppliers. Ultimately. the member may then “complete” the process by adopting or adapting the organization’s interests. the organization’s own stated “identifications” in the form of guidelines for individual and collective action. (Klemm et al. Simply put. In many Downloaded from http://job. an individual who is inclined to identify with an organization (or an organizational subunit) will be open to persuasive efforts from various sources within that unit. 146-147) The mission statement is a corporate guideline that definitely encourages identification because it is “rhetorically designed in order to ensure maximum employee ‘buy-in’” (Swales & Rogers. customers. and perhaps even developing a salient identification with the organization as a target. enable current and potential employees. p. Mission statements . 223). 2009 . Some scholars extend the scope of identification to include external stakeholders. goals. Bartkus et al. managers. the firms’ statements reflect their understanding of their own contexts and audiences. 1991. (2000) state. (pp. and information (i. p..Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 103 While an individual has the ability to identify spontaneously with an organizational target.sagepub. if stakeholders are able to align their individual objectives with those of the firm. Because of the effect of a speaker’s demonstrated goodwill on the goodwill reciprocated by the audience.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. 29) A review of published mission statements shows that the stakeholders considered most important to a firm can differ depending on the nature of its business: Companies in mining and construction are keen to stress a responsible attitude to the environment. As a third aspect of ethos. and investors to self-select into the firm (to determine whether they want to get involved with it). thereby influencing a corporation’s image and its identity. (p. .. newly privatized companies emphasize profitability and shareholders’ interests and companies dependent on key skilled workers make sure that their value is mentioned in the statements.
Amato and Amato (2002) see goodwill as an important strategy for “cultivating and maintaining a corporate good guy image in the eyes of various stakeholders” (p. better results were achieved. research that tests the effects of ethos and labels it that way has increased (e. 5).S. Mission Statement Content and Corporate Ethos: Research In 1985. the “Shell Information Series” and informative booklets. took unfair advantage of [oil] shortages and. A series of advertisements. 2002. 62). Beason. one aimed at generating goodwill.sagepub. although most of these studies had been conducted in the contexts of communication theory and social psychology. Shenk. Shell Oil Company mounted a public relations campaign to provide facts and information that would demonstrate that they were not “greedy price-gougers who.. he says. Livesey. “Come to Shell for Answers. the emotional state of a person is caused by an unfulfilled need. 1995. 1995). Cross (1991) supports Aristotle’s assertion: “One of the most powerful motivations. Swales & Rogers. and a few studies have investigated the links between mission statements and corporate ethos. 1991. is an offer to satisfy a reader’s needs. Applying this principle to corporations. at best. at worst. and here Aristotle and modern psychology are in agreement. particularly emotional needs” (p. However. Stoddard noted that Aristotle’s theory had been confirmed by empirical research to determine the effects of ethos.” Thus “source credibility” becomes an operational term for the classical concept of ethos. using “logical argumentation” actually made the public angrier and more hostile (p. actually caused the shortages” (p.104 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION cases. 62). 2009 . 72). One study analyzed these statements Downloaded from http://job. Three different attempts by Shell to use logicbased strategies failed to calm the anger felt by the public.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. oil companies during the “oil crisis” in the early 1970s. . 233) Since 1985. .g. and the benefits of this strategy are illustrated by a true example that Kallendorf and Kallendorf (1989) relate. . communication theory substitutes the term “source” for rhetoric’s “speaker” or “writer. In the triangular model of discourse. 1991). (p. Therefore. in fact.” were highly successful because they helped to placate the public’s anger and to repair Shell’s damaged ethos. a communicator who wishes to alter the state of mind of his or her audience should first identify needs that the audience has and then craft a message that satisfies those needs in some way (Cross. when Shell shifted to an ethos-based approach. In response to the public relations crisis faced by U.
1997). In 1991. companies. 1995. values. 1991. companies included on the Times 1000 index were surveyed to find out whether they saw mission statements as more important to the firms’ identity (internal ethos) or image (external ethos).sagepub.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. managers in 50 U. and focus—were conveyed to each group (Leuthesser & Kohli. in 1997. especially when these statements include company values because they enhance management’s leadership within organizations. and the researchers concluded that “mission statements are seen by managers as more important internally than externally” (Klemm et al. 227).S. Other studies have analyzed the ethos-building strategies in mission statements to determine which audiences were targeted and to learn whether the primary audiences were internal or external.. These authors based their conclusions on a linguistic and textual analysis of a large collection of mission statements and a contextual and intertextual analysis of three mission statements from two different U. 231). 77). p. employees. image. suppliers. Their close textual analysis of these three statements enabled them to identify specific linguistic features the corporations used to “foster [employees’] affiliation and identification. whereas suppliers were addressed rarely. mission statements found in the annual reports of companies on the Business Week 1000 list were analyzed to determine which stakeholder groups—customers. Other studies have analyzed the ethos-building strategies in mission statements to determine which audiences were targeted and to learn whether the primary audiences were internal or external.K. 2009 . these researchers found that “two-thirds of the mission statements included assertions addressing employees—second Downloaded from http://job.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 105 to identify character-building strategies and concluded that they “tend to stress values. p.” such as the frequent use of first-person-plural pronouns (p. They found that customers were addressed often. and shareholders— were targeted and what kinds of information—benefits. In addition. Then. positive behavior and guiding principles within the framework of the corporation’s announced belief system and ideology” (Swales & Rogers.
the following hypothesis guided my research: Hypothesis: The mission statements of higher-performing Fortune 1000 firms will include significantly more of the recommended components than the statements of lower-performing firms.sagepub. and esteem) significantly more often than the mission statements belonging to the small firms did.106 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION only to customers. one directional hypothesis and two research questions were formulated.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. and ecological) and three of the five individual dimensions (physical. Mission Statement Content and Corporate Ethos: Textual Analysis For the textual analysis. 2002). Mission Statement Content and Performance: Content Analysis For the content analysis. 63). safety. HYPOTHESIS AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS Based on the literature review. Identity (internal ethos) and image (external ethos) were also studied in 2002 when the mission statements for firms included in the Forbes Best Small Business and Fortune 200 lists were analyzed to determine whether the inclusion of individual and societal QOL dimensions affected a corporation’s ethos (Amato & Amato. Among these. Although they found a link between size and some QOL dimensions. institutional. 2009 . They found that the mission statements belonging to the large firms addressed four of the seven societal dimensions (economic. they found no link between profitability and QOL dimensions. value statements were the most prevalent” (p. the following research questions guided my study of strategies used to project a strong ethos: (a) Will the mission statements of higher-performing firms show more evidence than those of lower-performing firms of the use of first-person point of view and the inclusion of values to project a strong identity and image and encourage identification with the firm and its values? (b) Will the mission statements of higher-performing Fortune 1000 firms show more evidence than those of lower-performing firms of the use of strategies to demonstrate a firm’s goodwill toward stakeholders? Downloaded from http://job. social.
If this equivalent statement or document included information similar to that usually included in a mission statement and seemed to serve the same purpose or purposes. I noticed that many had values statements embedded Downloaded from http://job. but the needed information was eventually received from 48 of the 50 corporations contacted. 19 had a mission statement or the equivalent. I’ll refer to all of the documents collected as mission statements). I was able to get information from all of the firms in the top 25: In all. I selected the 14 firms with the highest profits for the higher-performing group. I reconfigured the initial groups to create one group of higher-performing firms and a second group of lower-performing firms.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 107 METHOD The corporations selected for this study were listed on the 2006 Fortune 1000 list. 2 of the firms in the bottom 25 were eliminated: One was simply a holding company and the other had been sold after the Fortune 1000 list had been issued. in other cases. At this point. This reduced the second group to 23 firms. After reviewing all of the collected mission statements or equivalents (from this point forward. several contacts had to be made.sagepub. I visited the Web sites of all 50 corporations to see if a mission statement was found there. I e-mailed or phoned the corporation. Table 1 shows the composition of each group. and I noted that. To increase diversity of size. I asked for it to be sent to me. In other cases. After ranking the 42 firms according to their profits. each firm’s ranking in the Fortune 1000 list. I used the Web site’s search engine. 2009 . If a representative said the corporation had a mission statement. so I asked for this equivalent to be sent to me. Therefore. I was told that the corporation did not have a mission statement or equivalent.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. the firms listed 1 to 25 and 976 to 1000 were initially selected. In some cases. when available. When neither a mission statement nor an equivalent could be located on a corporation’s Web site. based on the profits for each firm. 2 had neither. 2 had neither. but I decided against choosing the 14 firms with the lowest profits because the profits for 1 firm were considerably higher than those of the other 13. Sometimes a representative replied that the corporation did not have a mission statement but did have an equivalent. If not. 23 had mission statements or equivalents. Then. Based on information obtained during this collection process. this led me to the mission statement. and its profits. I could get no information from 2 of the corporations in this group. this led me to a statement or other document that the corporation considered equivalent to a mission statement. so the size of this group was reduced to 21 firms: In all. I decided to limit the number of the firms in the lower-performing group to 13. I added it to my collection of documents. In a few cases. its revenues.
7 75.604.0 315.514.0 2.474.481.7 50.0 177.0 166.0 16.0 16.481.529. It did not seem consistent.980.0 4. and others referred me to a values statement for additional information about the corporation’s mission. However.600.460. I decided. Two Groups of Firms for Mission Statement Content and Textual Analyses Rank Company Revenues ($ Millions) 339.444.590.0 8.6 Higher-performing firms in the 2006 Fortune 1000a 1 Exxon Mobil 2 Wal-Mart Stores 4 Chevron 5 Ford Motor 6 ConocoPhillips 7 General Electric 8 Citigroup 10 International Business Machines 11 Hewlett-Packard 12 Bank of America Corporation 14 Home Depot 15 Valero Energy 17 J P Morgan Chase & Co. I did not include codes of conduct in the documents Downloaded from http://job. n = 14.511. for me to analyze some mission statements that included values statements but to exclude other values statements just because they were not a part of the mission statements proper. or appended. 18 Verizon Communications Lower-performing firms in the 2006 Fortune 1000b 3 General Motors 16 McKesson 977 Stein-Mart 979 Apria Healthcare Group 980 PSS World Medical 982 ScanSource 984 BMC Software 985 Bob Evans Farms 992 PC Connection 995 Schulman 996 Russell 998 XO Communications 1000 Regal-Beloit a.1 1.231.0 80.111.587. n = 13. b.2 1.3 1.024.6 1.696.0 81.6 1.0 7.6 1.3 37.465.0 –10.108 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION Table 1.045.0 131.9 66.469.0 5.134.397.435.4 32.1 34.0 1.463.9 192.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18.0 83. to include any values statement that was found in close proximity to a mission statement.0 75.434.483.4 –146.398.210.0 35.433.0 86.0 11.0 2.838.428.902.6184.108.40.206 7.473.0 79.353. 2009 .934.sagepub.0 189.0 91. or was linked to a mission statement.5 69.8 1. therefore.099.362.0 13. then.6 1.0 14.7 Profits ($ Millions) 36.0 157.938.0 3.0 –156.9 39.1 1.0 81. was referenced in a mission statement.0 24.683.6 1.
this particular list of components was chosen to provide some comparability with the study by Pearce and David. both of whom have extensive business or business communication experience. Provided below are the components and explanations that David (1989. and examples of mission statement content components that are found in David (1989) and Pearce and David (1987). explanations.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 109 I analyzed because these serve different purposes. the two log sheets for each of the 42 statements were compared. When both raters had completed their coding. 2009 . 92) provides: 1. Self-concept—What are the firm’s major strengths and competitive advantages? 8. revising them only slightly in many cases rather than using components already formulated and suitable for further use. it was coded with a 1. and are not generally included in the mission statement genre. Then. it was coded with a 0. Although various components with a range of labels have been suggested during the past 30 years or so. I believe. values. (2001) and discussed earlier in the literature review that collection of a solid base of mission statement research has been hampered by the tendency of most researchers to craft new content components. 5. 4. 2. Concern for public image—What are the firm’s public responsibilities.1%. The raters began by familiarizing themselves with the definitions. A second reason for choosing this list was to address the concern expressed by Bart et al.sagepub. Each statement was read and coded by two raters. and what image is desired? 9. p. and intercoder reliability was determined to be 87. 3. Content Analysis The content of all 42 of the mission statements collected was analyzed using procedures specified by Pearce and David (1987). aspirations. Customers—Who are the enterprise’s customers? Products or services—What are the firm’s major products or services? Location—Where does the firm compete? Technology—What is the firm’s basic technology? Concern for survival—What is the firm’s commitment to economic objectives? Philosophy—What are the basic beliefs. if not. At that point. Concern for employees—What is the firm’s attitude toward its employees? Each rater worked independently and used a separate log sheet for each statement. If a mission statement definitely included a component. 6. the two raters conferred about all discrepancies and worked together to resolve those. the component ratings for all of the higher-performing firms were Downloaded from http://job. and philosophical priorities of the firm? 7.
the percentage of the total words those frequencies represent. and words such as collaboration and team were combined under the general value of teamwork. In a few cases. The word lists pointed to specific mission statements that mentioned one of more of these recipients. but the value was addressed in other words. Then. I gathered evidence from these mission statements of the firms’ efforts to show goodwill toward various recipients: internal and external stakeholders as well as communities.sagepub. words such as honesty and trust were combined under the general value of integrity.e. the world. For example. “We lead by example” was classified under leadership. After checking each mission statement. Swales & Rogers. Next. and those for the lower-performing firms were entered on another. Separate word lists were created for each firm’s statement. one that fosters identification with the firm and its values (Cheney. the mission statements from the same two groups of Fortune 1000 firms were converted to text files. countries. Second.. 1983. but “We are a leading provider of internet services” was not). Textual Analysis To focus on the firms’ use of three specific strategies for projecting a strong ethos. For instance. These lists include the frequencies for each word. As one measure of a firm’s attempt to create a mission statement with a strong ethos. the number of statements mentioning each value at least once was totaled for each group of firms and for both groups. “We strive to be first in everything we do” was counted as having addressed the value of excellence.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. and society in general. for all of the statements included in each group. but a careful reading of the designated statements was required to determine that the recipient was not just named in the statement but was Downloaded from http://job. a t test for independent means was used to calculate the differences between the ratings of all nine components for the two groups and to determine whether any differences were statistically significant. Finally. 1995). a synonym for a specific value was not mentioned. 2009 . using the generated word lists as a starting point. and the total number of words in the statement or statements included in the list. and for all 27 of the firms. I went to the actual statements to ensure that the occurrence of the word was representing a value (i. and synonyms for the same general value were located and combined. all of the first-person-plural pronouns were first located on these word lists. all of the values were identified.110 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION entered on one spreadsheet. and word lists were created by using the Oxford WordSmith 4 Software.
The remainder of the firms used headings such as “Our Aspirations. Textual Analysis The textual analysis of the 27 mission statements revealed a widespread use of first-person-plural pronouns. but more of the lowerperforming firms included the technology component. but only 16 (38.3%). and 25 were composed of four or more sentences. most of the Fortune 1000 firms included in this study’s initial sample do have a mission statement (42 of 46. products or services. 11 had one-sentence statements. a partial answer to my first research question. RESULTS General results include the following: First. Second. but the differences were not statistically significant.” “Guiding Principles. and self-concept components. In contrast. The 14 mission statements belonging to the higher-performing Downloaded from http://job. the length of the mission statements studied (excluding appended or linked values statements) ranged from the previously popular one-sentence statements to lengthy statements of several paragraphs.” and so on. almost all of the mission statements found online were accompanied by colorful and creative graphics and showed evidence of skillful visual design. Third. 2009 . and employees.1%) of those firms use either “mission” or “mission statement” as a heading.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. Table 2 presents all of the pertinent statistical data for the content analysis. 91. 6 had statements of two or three sentences.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 111 actually identified as an actual or potential beneficiary of the firm’s goodwill.sagepub. more of the higher-performing firms included the location and philosophy components. However. the t test results showed that there were statistically significant differences between the two groups’ inclusion of three of the nine content components: survival. the directional hypothesis was partially supported. the number of statements that address one or more of these recipients was tallied for each group of firms and for both groups.” “Our Story. a full page. For these 42 firms. public image. Almost the same number of firms in each group included the customers. Therefore. Content Analysis Mission statements from both groups of firms showed some similarities. or multiple pages in a few cases. Then.
46 0. Only 2 of the 27 statements used a primarily third-person point of view.26 0.56 0. n = 13. 1995.38 0. 1991.24 0. 1983).18 0. in regard to the use of first-person pronouns.64 0.62 0.18 0.91* df 25 25 24 24 24 23 25 18 18 firms included 239 first-person-plural pronouns (5.53 2.13 0. regardless of their relative power.86 0. p.07 0. 1995): (a) General Motors— “We will win by thinking and acting together as one General Motors team”. Higher or Lower t 0. 301). p. support one another and never let the customer—or our coworkers—down.79 0.93 SD 0.6% of all words). 2009 .07 0.31 0.21 0.12 0.05.46 SD 0.86 0. Specific examples of the use of first-person-plural pronouns by these firms include the following ones that aim to create or reinforce unity (Cheney.18 0. development and manufacture of the industry’s most advanced information technologies. 223): International Business Machines—“At IBM.78 0. b. 1983.07 LowerPerforming Firmsb M 0.27 0.sagepub. p.85 0.22* 0.69 0. the two groups of firms were fairly similar. and promote identification with the firm (Cheney. M 0.22 0.14 2.14 0.62 0.23 0. n = 14. Swales & Rogers. 1990.13 0.77 0.94 –0.” Downloaded from http://job.112 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION Table 2.19 0.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18.71 0.” The excerpt from General Motors’s statement and a third excerpt provide good examples of “double identification of the corporate entity and of the people comprising it” (Swales & Rogers. A Comparison of Mission Statement Components for Fortune 1000 Firms HigherPerforming Firmsa Component Customers Products or services Location Technology Survival Philosophy Self-concept Public image Employees a. The 13 mission statements belonging to the lower-performing firms included 78 first-person-plural pronouns (5. and (b) Verizon—“We work together. build “a sense of community” (Beason.26 0.4% of all words). *p < .91* 2. are working together to achieve the company goals” (Rogers & Swales. “concretize an idealized environment in which all the participants. 331).27 Difference.26 0.23 0.93 0. we strive to lead in the creation. Therefore.
(b) Verizon— “Integrity is at the heart of everything we do”. However. Exactly or nearly the same number of firms in each group mentioned excellence.sagepub. Ten different values were discussed in 4 or more of the 27 mission statements analyzed. 300): (a) ScanSource—“We protect our company resources to benefit those who depend on us. Russell corporation has prided itself on the quality and value of its products. Ten different values were discussed in 4 or more of the 27 mission statements analyzed. such as our employees and shareholders”. higher-performing firms mentioned respect. with most including multiple expressions. the textual analysis determined that values are often included in mission statements or in a list of values appended or linked to the statements. 2009 . (c) ScanSource—“We are committed to an environment that respects and values the diverse backgrounds. Exactly or nearly the same number of firms in each group mentioned excellence. and innovation. they “identify managerial directives as employee responsibilities” (Rogers & Swales.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 113 Other examples of the use of first-person-plural pronouns in the mission statements analyzed are “decidedly managerial in tone”. no tests of statistical significance were performed. and innovation. and provide superior results for our shareholders. integrity. Four examples show specific ways in which selected statements aim to create admirable characters for the firms: (a) ConocoPhillips—“We are a good neighbor and citizen in the communities where we operate”. and (d) Russell—“From its beginnings in 1902. 1990.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. designated recipients of goodwill were Downloaded from http://job.” Furthermore.” Additional results of the textual analysis showed that all 27 of the mission statements included at least one expression of goodwill. p. leadership. that is. and (b) Citigroup—“We must put Citigroup’s long-term interests ahead of each unit’s short-term gains. and they included teamwork and safety to an even greater degree. However. citizenship. In addition. and responsibility somewhat more often. diversity. Table 3 lists the values that occurred most frequently for both groups of firms. interests and talents of our employees”. integrity .
sagepub. and communities or society were listed as goodwill targets by more of the higher-performing firms than the lower-performing ones.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. of LowerPerforming Firms Performing Firms Mentioning This Valuea Mentioning This Valueb Value Excellence Integrity Innovation Respect Leadership Diversity Responsibility Citizenship Teamwork Safety a. every day”. (b) Bank of America—“The promise we make to customers. collaborative. Customers were most frequently designated by both groups of firms. with customer service being mentioned most often as one of a firm’s priorities. Ten Values Mentioned in Selected Mission Statements No. of HigherNo. associates. 2009 . However. and (d) ScanSource—“We highly value our customers and vendors and are committed to meeting their needs quickly and fairly. n = 13.” Downloaded from http://job. In addition to the quantitative data that support the use of goodwill strategies by firms in both groups. of Firms Mentioning This Valuec n 26 17 14 14 6 12 12 16 12 4 % 96 63 52 52 22 44 44 59 44 15 somewhat similar for the two groups of firms. I have highlighted the goodwill recipient or recipients): (a) Wal-Mart—“Our philosophy is to provide everyday low prices with exceptional customer service”. and each other”. trusting and beneficial relationships with governments. Table 4 provides complete details about the expressions of goodwill by both groups of firms. our customers. (c) Chevron—“We have an unwavering commitment to being a good partner focused on building productive. our communities. shareholders. These differences were not tested for statistical significance. n = 14. other companies. c. differences were found: Employees. The groups’ expressions of goodwill toward vendors were also similar in number. and shareholders is that we will pursue higher standards of service and performance in all we do. n 14 9 7 8 4 8 8 10 10 4 % 100 64 50 57 29 57 57 71 71 29 n 12 8 7 6 2 4 4 6 2 0 % 92 62 54 46 15 31 31 46 15 0 Total No. n = 27. b.114 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION Table 3. several examples show how specific goodwill recipients are targeted (in each case.
n = 27. although the results of any study must be replicated to confirm their value for scholars and practitioners. 2009 . the length and sophistication of corporate mission statements has increased in recent years. of LowerPerforming Firms Performing Firms Addressing Recipientsa Addressing Recipientsb Recipients Customers Employees Community or society Shareholders Vendors a. Mission Statement and Content Components The findings of this study’s content analysis suggest that the content components outlined by David in 1989 are still found in current mission statements with enough regularity and consistency to indicate that the kinds of information corporations consider most important for conveying to their internal and external stakeholders have not changed dramatically in the past two decades. By one name or another. c. of Firms Addressing Recipientsc n 26 18 19 15 3 % 96 67 70 56 11 n 14 11 11 9 1 % 100 79 79 64 7 n 12 7 8 6 2 % 92 54 61 46 15 The purpose of this study was to assess the current state of the corporate mission statement. Also. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS Total No. of HigherNo. and the results provide persuasive support for several conclusions.sagepub. The most obvious conclusion is that the mission statement genre is alive and well. n = 13.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 115 Table 4. Mission Statement Content and Performance Differences continue to be found between the content components included by higher-performing firms and those included by lower-performing Downloaded from http://job. especially when these statements are presented on corporate Web sites. b.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. it continues to be a standard communication tool for the majority of large corporations. Recipients of Goodwill in Selected Mission Statements No. n = 14.
seems especially popular as well. Amato and Amato (2002) found that the financial success of firms was correlated with their commitment in mission statements to “the general well being in the work and/or organizational environment” (p. the significant differences found in this study for the survival and employee components were not found in the 1987 study. and Amato and Amato (2002) cite the visibility of such firms as a motivation for them to “focus on a QOL commitment” (in this case. 2009 . 82). are likely to view as ones they share or ones that merit their commitment to the firm.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. Likewise. Mission Statement Content and Corporate Ethos The mission statements of these corporations show widespread use of a first-person point of view and character-building strategies to create a strong ethos. The differences between the higher-performing and lower-performing firms in regard to their inclusion of the values of citizenship and safety are more than likely a result of a key difference in the composition of the two groups of firms. customers. The attention given by both groups of firms to the value of integrity is a logical and predictable response to some highly publicized corporate scandals in recent years. but these components were found to be positively associated with performance in research conducted by Bart (1997). a result that concurs with this study’s finding that higher-performing firms were more likely to express concern for their employees than were lower-performing firms. especially employees. For one of the components analyzed in this study—concern for public image—the significant difference was similar to that discovered by Pearce and David (1987). Downloaded from http://job. to the health and well-being of their stakeholders and communities) in an attempt to build “social capital” (p. another value both groups of firms included fairly often.116 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION ones. Another identification strategy. including innovation. Of the 14 higher-performing firms. To be sure. In addition. 4 are energy firms. the inclusion of positive values. and excellence is a buzzword that permeates management literature and has led to extensive efforts aimed at achieving this standard. Also. but the differences were not statistically significant in either case. In contrast. 83). thereby increasing the extent of their identification with the firm.sagepub. both studies found that higher-performing firms included the location. and products or services components more often than did lower-performing firms. This pervasive use of first-person pronouns echoes the findings of Swales and Rogers (1995). integrity and excellence are values that stakeholders. the use of a first-person point of view for firms in this study transcended the boundary of differences in performance.
that are recounted by Amato and Amato (2002): “Teamwork and trust were promoted when the corporate leadership [in that study] developed a vision statement that valued trust. Nevertheless. For scholars and researchers.Williams / MISSION STATEMENT 117 However. this finding compares with the results in a study by Leuthesser and Kohli (1997). there is adequate justification for carefully considering the content components and rhetorical strategies chosen most often by higher-performing firms. Because concern for employees appeared to be a greater concern for the higher-performing firms. the reasons for the dramatic differences between the two groups’ inclusion of the value of teamwork is less clear. Finally. 2009 . and dignity. it appears that the lower-performing firms studied here have missed an opportunity to do everything possible to secure the allegiance of their employees. none of the researchers involved. would be so rash as to assume causality here. The lower-performing firms were less attentive to communities and society in general. Because the consideration of rhetorical strategies has not thus far received nearly as much attention as has the consideration of content components. the body of mission statement research that this study expands provides a rich Downloaded from http://job. Of course. if practitioners are looking for mission statement models to emulate. In addition. missing an opportunity for strengthening their public image. although this study and others point to a possible association between a corporation’s crafting an effective mission statement and enjoying greater success. Also. employees were named as goodwill recipients by 79% of the higher-performing firms in this study but by only 54% of the lower-performing ones. integrity. To some extent. This study’s finding that customers were the primary recipients of these expressions of goodwill is not at all surprising because of the crucial role that customers play in a corporation’s success. 83). an effect discussed above. An enhanced organizational climate was then directly linked to higher organizational performance” (p. especially this one.com at COLUMBIA UNIV on January 18. attention given to employees is likely to enhance their identification with the firm. teamwork. the mission statements of these corporations show considerable evidence of their efforts to demonstrate goodwill. the finding that highly successful firms include this value more often does follow from the finding discussed earlier that the employees content component was included significantly more often by the higher-performing firms. Therefore. the results of this study’s textual analysis could prompt drafters of mission statements to add some of these strategies to their repertoire. In sum. Furthermore. too. Also relevant to this finding are the results of a 1995 study by Petty et al. these results lend support to the conclusions of Amato and Amato (2002). it makes sense that teamwork would also rank higher among their stated values.sagepub.
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