ADVANCING STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION THROUGH MISSION STATEMENTS: CREATION OF A NATURAL LANGUAGE TAXONOMY.

Author:Allison, Jerry
Position::Report
 
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INTRODUCTION

Strategic communication is a relatively new field, coupling communication theory with strategic management (Thomas & Stephens, 2015). There is not a great deal of research on strategic communication itself as there is with older, well-established fields. However, one topic that is part of strategic communication, mission statements, has elicited a great amount of study as a category of strategic management.

The purpose of this study is to develop taxonomy of mission statements. Although mission statements are a form of strategic communication, the linkage in research between the two subjects has not been sparse. One result of this taxonomy is to help link the two areas together more closely. As Bunn (1993) states, the development of a taxonomy is an important step toward developing comprehensive theory. Developing a comprehensive theory of strategic communication can occur through linking individual components of the subject, one of which is the topic of mission statements and that linking begins through taxonomy development.

This study presents several sections for this development. First, a literature review is presented that includes definitions for strategic communication and mission statements, an examination of mission statement theory and a discussion of a theoretical framework. The second section presents the methodology used for developing the taxonomy. Third, a discussion occurs regarding the findings of the application of the methodology, including limitations for the study and directions for future research. Finally, a summary is given.

LITERATURE REVIEW

This section provides a review of salient academic literature. The first part examines the literature to provide concise definitions for strategic communication and mission statements. This is followed by a review of mission statement literature and a review of taxonomy literature. Finally, from the literature reviews this paper develops a theoretical framework.

Definitions

This section lays the foundation for the paper by defining the key terms of the study. Definitions are important so all who read a work can understand the context in which the study is framed. First defined is the term strategic communication. This is followed by the definition of mission statement.

Definition of Strategic Communication: A few definitions of strategic communication already exist in the literature. Hallahan, Holtzhausen, van Ruler, Vercic & Sriramesh (2007) wrote arguably one of the most important articles to date on strategic communication in which they historically and epistemologically analyze the topic. They define strategic communication of an organization "as the purposeful use of communication to fulfill its mission" but the characteristics mentioned are just as important. The three characteristics given by Hallahan, et al. (2007) are the communication has a specific goal, the center of the communication is the delivery of a specific message to a target and the communication has the ability to influence issues in society.

Similar characteristics are provided by Dulek & Campbell (2015). They note one of the important consequences of strategic communication is the changed focus of communication away from the receiver and away from the context toward the goal of the communication. Thus, strategic communication is designed to fulfill a purpose rather than just pure communication, particularly since the message is strictly one-way communication. The authors also mention another characteristic is the potential inclusion of ambiguity with the aim of leading the recipient to a specific conclusion that is not explicitly stated. Thus, strategic communication can create a partial image of the originating organization that the recipient completes.

Thomas & Stephens (2015) refused to define strategic communication so as to avoid limiting research in the field. However, they mention articles that do define the term. These article definitions can be summarized as communication that promotes firm mission and positioning, that connects with stakeholders and that interfaces strategically with those outside the firm.

This paper offers a definition that incorporates the essential elements provided above and yet leaves room for research variation. The definition of strategic communication adopted for this paper is an organizational message that is unilateral, intentional and strategically relevant to a targeted audience.

Definition of Mission Statement: The definition of strategic communication is far less complicated than the definition of mission statement. Part of the reason is there is great confusion as to what a mission statement is, not to mention its function, focus and form (Khalifa, 2011; Vizeu & Matitz, 2013). There are two general ideas that have emerged from the literature, both of which are discussed below. The first concept of a mission statement is as a collection of dictums that include a firm's mission, its vision and its values to name just a few. The second concept of a mission statement is solely the mission of the organization and does not include vision and the other proclamations. Adding to the confusion are authors who use the term "mission statement" in both ways-as a general "container" for other statements and then as a specific dictum inside the general "container" (Rajasekar, 2013). Even more confusion is generated by authors who suggest mission is a part of vision (Baum, 1994).

The first conceptualization of a mission statement is as a group of several pronouncements. Hill, Jones & Schilling (2015) describe the mission statement as consisting of the mission, vision and values of a firm. Matejka, Kurke & Gregory (1993) only include mission and vision while Powers (2012) includes mission, vision, values and philosophy. Furthermore, Rajasekar (2013) includes mission, vision, external analysis, internal analysis, strategy formulation and strategy implementation and performance evaluation. Other researchers define mission statement differently from all of these (Hackley, 1998; Green & Medlin, 2003; Williams, Morrell & Mullane, 2014).

The second conceptualization of a mission statement is that of a proclamation of the firm's mission and nothing more. Ganu (2013) describes it as a short description of why the firm exists and what it does. This is echoed in the literature by (David & David, 2003; Cochran, David & Gibson, 2008; Williams, 2008)).

This study adopts the definition provided by Ganu (2013). The rationale for adopting this definition is two-fold. First, a firm can have a mission, but not a vision. Using the first conceptualization, this firm may not then have a complete mission statement. Adopting the simpler conceptualization avoids the complexity and confusion surrounding the first set of definitions. Second, the goal is to find taxonomy for the mission. Vision statements may have a completely different taxonomy and joining them under the first conceptualization would lose the characterizations of the individual classifications.

Mission Statement Research

This section examines the literature on mission statements. A history of the mission statements exists in the literature review of other studies (Vizeu & Matitz, 2013), so that will not be addressed here. There are three main areas of research. The first is the relationship between mission statements and firm performance. The second is the mission statement and its content. The third is the mission statement as a communication tool. Each of these is examined below.

Mission Statement and Performance: As with any strategic tool, mission statements have been analyzed to determine if they affect firm success. Several studies have shown a link between mission statements and organizational performance. These studies were performed on Canadian hospitals (Bart & Hupfer, 2004), Israeli firms (Sheaffer, Landau & Drori, 2008), science firms in the United Kingdom (Alavi & Karami, 2009) and firms in Turkey (Erol & Kanbur, 2014). However, some studies have shown no relationship between mission statements and firm performance. Research showing no relationship include studies on the hospitality industry (Sufi & Lyons, 2003) and Jordanian banks (Alawneh, 2015).

Part of the reason for the disparity in results may be the level at which the studies are taking place. Some of the research tests only the existence of a mission statement and some measure of performance (Sheaffer et al., 2008; Alavi & Karami, 2009). Other studies examine content of the mission statements to determine if there is a link between the elements found and performance (Alavi & Karami, 2009; Erol & Kanbur, 2014; Sufi & Lyons, 2003). However, these studies do not seem to go deeply enough. Analoui & Karami (2002) state a mission statement is ineffective if it is not communicated and accepted by internal stakeholders. Much of the ambiguity in results may be attributed to failure to examine acceptance by the internal stakeholders.

Mission Statement Content: An extensive amount of research has been made on the content of mission statements. These content studies can be divided into two groups. The first of these groups are studies that have examined mission statements of various collections and found what was inside those mission statements, more of a retrospect analysis. The second group is prescriptive, providing advice on what should be in a mission statement.

The studies in the retrospective group each examined a group of organizations with similar characteristics. Finley, Rogers & Galloway (2001) examined 45 Canadian universities to find they all had similar mission statements offering no strategic differentiation. Similarly, Davis, Ruhe & Rajadhyaksha (2006) examined another group of universities and found those with mission statements having explicit content regarding ethics had better ethical outcomes. Orwig & Finney (2007) investigated the statements of AACSB accredited schools and found most statements...

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