Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

An Analysis of Mission Statements from Top Companies: Content and Style

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

An Analysis of Mission Statements from Top Companies: Content and Style

Article excerpt


Interest in the development of mission statements has intensified over the last decade (Fairhurst, Jordan, & Neuwirth, 1997; Stone, 1996). They are one of the most widely used tools in organizational development, a process that involves teaching organizational members to solve problems and to seize opportunities (Bart, 1999; French & Bell, 1995). A well-documented mission statement can enable an organization to transform broad aims into specific strategic plans and long-term objectives (Cheng, 1999; Sunoo, 1996).

Mission statements tend to positively influence the performance of organizations in several notable ways. Mission statements frame and motivate the work of individuals within the corporation by outlining and communicating explicit organizational goals and priorities (Chubb, 1990; Weiss, 1996). Communication tends to flow much more efficiently in organizations that have well written mission statements because employees share a common frame of reference (Chubb, 1990). Since communication flows more efficiently, mission statements can articulate needed values to employees, thereby prompting increased commitment and identity with the organization (Campbell & Nash, 1992; Weiss, 1996). Mission statements affirm organizational distinctiveness, outline the firm's contributions to the public, and invite external stakeholder support by encouraging shared ownership of goals. Communication of the mission can also ease the reliance on currently held sources of competitive differentiation by facilitating the procurement of new external resources (Chubb, 1990; Drucker, 1992). Since mission statements prompt organizational activity in response to environmental changes and pressures (Harvey, 1998), they must change as the environment changes, or the firm will not grow strategically (Rigby, 1998; Stone, 1996; Weiss, 1996).

A variety of issues have been considered in previous mission statement research. Some studies describe how to effectively generate the statement itself through strategic planning efforts (Stone, 1996), while others have prescribed the essential features and characteristics of the mission statement (Stone, 1996). Others have sought to identify the content of well-written mission statements from successful companies, and there are several reasons why these content analyses are needed (Abrahams, 1995; Bart, 1999; Rarick & Vitton, 1995). Generally, speaking, there is limited consensus regarding what should be stated in the mission statement itself (Bart, 1999; Rarick & Vitton, 1995). Also, mission statements often "lack clarity, relevance, salience, veridicality (truthfulness or representativeness), inspiration and/or engagement by management" (Fairhurst et al., 1997, p. 244).

Using a convenience sample of 300 mission statements, the purpose of this investigation is to describe mission statement content. The research objectives of this study include describing the average length of mission statements, highlighting their typical characteristics such as voice (passive or active) and readability, and determining the number of keywords as cited by Abrahams (1995) that appear in the mission statements sampled. Based on an assessment of current literature on mission statements, it was predicted that the mission statements sampled would be on average one to two paragraphs, be of active voice, have a high degree of readability, and be written on a high reading grade level. It was also expected that the fifteen keywords cited by Abrahams (1995) would appear frequently throughout the 300 mission statements sampled.


Companies compose, present and distribute their missions in many different ways. The differences become apparent when you examine the basic elements that comprise and distinguish a mission statement. One dimension of evaluation is found in the language or style with which the mission is expressed. …

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