Current mission statement emphasis: be ethical and go global.

Author:King, Darwin L.


Mission statements are vital communications used by corporations to define themselves to their various stakeholders including customers, employees, creditors, and stockholders. Mission statements can be as short as one sentence or expand to one or two paragraphs. These statements attempt to communicate the organization's values, purpose, identity, and primary business goals. Mission statements are often longer than a vision statement which provides a broader statement reflecting the future aspirations of the company.

Fred David argues that a mission statement is a declaration of an organization's "reason for being" (David, 2009). A clear mission statement is necessary for the firm to effectively establish objectives and formulate long-term strategies. David also states that every organization has a reason for being and any organization that fails to develop a comprehensive and inspiring mission statement loses the opportunity to present itself favorably to existing and potential stakeholders. According to David, a good mission statement reveals an organization's customers, products or services, markets, technology, concern for survival, growth, and profitability, philosophy, self-concept, concern for public image, and concern for employees. These factors, he believes, serve as a practical framework for evaluating and writing mission statements.

Peter Drucker believes that firms need to develop a mission statement that answers the questions "What do we want to become?" and "What is our business?" when the firm has been successful (Drucker, 1974). This proactive approach attempts to define how the firm can continue to excel and improve operations. Many authors feel that organizations develop mission and vision statements only when the company is in trouble (David, 2009). This reactive approach is far less effective and David feels that development of mission statements in times of crisis is a gamble that "characterizes irresponsible management."

Rebecca Leet believes that developing a mission statement is especially important for non-profit organizations and charities (Leet, 2008). Leet feels that just as strategic planning taught groups how to organize and focus their functions internally to achieve their missions, developing a strategic message teaches them how to organize and focus externally by recognizing who their supporters are and linking the organization's goals to what drives people to take the action it seeks. This basic philosophy applies to for-profit organizations since these firms want customers to continue purchasing their goods and services and also hope that stockholders and employees will continue to support the organization.

According to King and Cleland, a carefully constructed mission statement must, among other things, ensure unanimity of purpose within the organization, provide a basis, or standard, for allocating organizational resources, establish a general tone or organizational climate, serve as a focal point for individuals to identify with the organization's purpose and direction, and specify organizational purposes and translate them into objectives for the firm (King and Cleland, 1979). It is clear that a mission statement is expected to serve many purposes as it includes goals and objectives that affect both internal and external stakeholders.

Steiner feels that a mission statement should be expressed at high levels of abstraction (Steiner, 1979). He feels that mission statements are not designed to express concrete ends but instead should promote "motivation, general direction, an image, a tone, and a philosophy to guide the enterprise." Steiner feels that excess detail in the statement could be counterproductive. A certain amount of vagueness provides more flexibility in adapting to changing environments and internal operations (Steiner, 1979).

Vern McGinnis believes that a good mission statement must accomplish a number of important objectives (McGinnis, 1981). First, the statement must define what the organization is and what it expects to be in the future. Next, the mission must distinguish the organization from all others. In addition, it must be limited enough to exclude some ventures but broad enough to allow for creative growth. The mission statement must also serve as a framework for evaluating both current and prospective activities. Finally, it must be stated in terms that are clear enough to be understood throughout the entire organization. This certainly shows that much is expected from one short communication that affects both internal and external stakeholders.

Many authors report that an increasing number of organizations are developing and issuing mission statements (David, 2009). David states that some firms issue mission statements simply because they are fashionable and the "thing to do." He argues that proactive organizations systematically revisit and revise both their mission and vision statements and treat them as living documents. This is certainly a logical approach since the internal operations of the firm and the external environment are constantly changing. A mission statement must be revised as the goals and objectives of the firm are updated.

The first author of this article previously published a review of Fortune 100 mission statements in the Academy of Managerial Communications Journal (King, 2001). It is the authors' intent in this paper to compare the 2001 mission statement content with the current 2008 versions. The appendix includes a listing of mission statements from the top 50 companies found in the 2008 Fortune 100 summary. The authors' analysis includes a review of the stakeholders and the goals and objectives of the firm. Significant changes in both of these areas are reviewed in this paper.


A significant amount of research has been conducted concerning mission statements in recent years. Firms realize that this brief communication is critically important to both internal and external stakeholders. The management and employees of the organization look to the mission statement in an attempt to determine if their daily decisions support the mission of the firm. External stakeholders including creditors and stockholders look to the mission statement in an attempt to understand the primary goals and objectives of the company. An effective mission statement is also necessary for colleges and universities as faculty and administration formulate strategic plans based on their effect on the school's mission.

In recent years, mission statements can generally be found on company websites. In a previous 2005 study by Jones, Little and Lovett, the authors found that only 327 or 65% of the Fortune 500 companies included a mission statement on their website (Jones, Little, and Lovett, 2005). The mission statements were located predominantly (60%) under the "About the Company" caption on the website. The remaining 40% of the firms listed the mission statement under other corporate information, investor relations, or a variety of other places on the site. In many cases the mission statement was not readily accessible by an interested party.

A later study in 2007 by some of the same authors found that the number of Fortune 500 firms that posted a mission statement on their website had increased to 415 or 83% of the firms (Jones, Lovett, and Blankenship, 2007). Surprisingly, 85 organizations did not place their mission statement on their webpage. A survey of these firms by these authors found that of the 25 firms that responded only six supplied a mission statement. The other 19 businesses stated that they had no mission statement, replied with auto-response and gave no further help, or stated other reasons why the mission statement was not available such as it was being revised.

Historically, mission statements have included a listing of primary stakeholders and the basic goals and objectives of the organization. The first author's study in 2001 involved a review of both of these areas. King based his study on the 2000 Fortune 100 list and found that customers, stockholders, and employees were the three most mentioned stakeholders (King, 2001). The most commonly mentioned goals or objectives of the firm included quality, general core values, leadership, global emphasis, technology, profits, and ethics. This was in the pre-9/11 and Sarbanes-Oxley period. The authors hope to compare and contrast these mission statements with those in the 2008 Fortune list. A summary of the 2000 Fortune 100 mission statements is provided in Table 1.

The mission statements of 2000 showed very little emphasis on ethics since only three firms (3%) from the top 100 companies included this concept. Also, at this time, only nine firms (9%) included the importance of protecting the environment. In recent years, ethical practices and "going green" to protect the environment have been extremely important goals for all business organizations. The importance of being a global business was only emphasized in 15% of the top 100 firms in 2000. It was logical that the two top stakeholders mentioned in mission reports were customers and stockholders with customers mentioned twice as often as stockholders. Finally, employees were also commonly mentioned with 21% of the companies including them in the mission.

The authors, in their study of 2008 Fortune top 50 firms, were interested in the revisions and modifications that firms have made in the last eight years...

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