Online Mission Statements: Briefly Stated by George S. Cole
The mission statement serves an important role in an organization, as a statement of both information and guidance. Academic organizations are often required to have a mission statement, due to the rules of regulatory and oversight bodies. An analysis of the online mission statements, of a select group of colleges of business, finds a degree of simplicity in the structure of those mission statements. The primary source of information for this study is the World Wide Web.
Business Schools and Missions
The Focused Mission of Business Schools
The mission statement is a staple of a business organization's existence. While a mission concept may be held in the mind of a principal of an organization, and not revealed to others, it is generally accepted that a mission statement should be created, and published, as a means of giving the members of an organization a cohesive concept of the mission.
The mission statement serves as more than a mere informational statement. While the statement can serve to focus the efforts of the members of the organization, it can also serve to focus the attention of non-members who may have a relationship with the organization. Given the relatively ready accessibility of the Internet, many organizations have found it useful to post their mission statements on the Web.
A search of the Web, using any of a number of search engines, will find mission statements for a variety of organizations. Using Google's advanced search option, and looking only at Web pages written in English, a search on the phrase "mission statement" found approximately 1.5 million hits . A search on the phrase "vision statement" returned 211,000 hits. As would be expected, there are duplicates in the listings, and the mission statements of a variety of organizations are represented, including mission statements of division-size units of organizations; departments; groups; and, individuals. Perhaps it is not surprising that the phrase "elegant mission statement" returned a listing of just three sites.
Not everyone would agree that there is a need for a mission statement. Those who openly disagree, however, are limited in number. About a dozen Web sites can be found in which there is a declaration that a mission statement is not necessary. The comparative paucity of such Web sites could be due to a belief that it is not wise to make such a declaration, and go against conventional wisdom. Or, it could the result of a sharp differentiation between the existence of a concept of a mission and the existence of a declaration of a mission statement. The absence of a mission statement, per se, does not indicate that there is no mission. It could also be that a mission has not been established as a formal statement. One Web site goes as far as to present their "No-Need-for-a-Mission-Statement Mission Statement" at "About SourceLinc" (http://www.sourcelinc.com/about.htm).
An organization will generally benefit from creating and following a sound mission statement. According to one study, the larger the size of a business organization, the more likely that it will undertake the planning process, with size being measured by the number of employees of a firm (Mazzarol, 2000). In too many situations, however, mission statements do not work as they should, and receive criticism from a number of directions (Bart, n.d.; Klinger, 1998; McRae, 1997).
Concurrent with the disagreement about the necessity of having a mission statement, there is widespread disagreement concerning both the structure and the content of a mission statement. Likening a company's mission statement to a business definition, one Web site suggests that there are six components of a mission statement: format; length; life; tone; title; and, key words (Stone, n.d.). Nine components are listed at another site: customers; products; markets; technology; survival; philosophy; self-concept; public image; and, employees (Lapoint, n.d.). There are various other lists of components, but it is clear that a given component may have only a limited relationship to the lifespan of a corporate entity (Smith et al., 2001). Thus, there is not a definitive listing of the components of a mission statement, and the lists that exist have a limited focus.
As an indication of possible cynicism about the utility of mission statements, at least one humor site provides a Mission Statement Generator (Catbert's Anti Career Center, n.d.). A search of the Web, for the phrase "mission statement generator", returned over 600 hits.
Business Schools and Missions
An open discussion of mission statements is expected in schools of business. Schools of business exist in order to instruct students in the ways of understanding and evaluating business organizations and the world of which they are a part. A number of courses are taught in which the mission statement of an organization is reviewed or analyzed. The capstone business policy/strategy course usually includes a segment on mission statements . The mission statement is viewed as being important for the direction that it imparts to an organization's employees and the organizational purpose that is communicated to non-members of the organization. The level of importance of the mission statement of an organization may be arguable, but it is a document that carries some importance in the business world. Just as business organizations are objects of academic study, the mission statements of academic organizations are also objects of study.
Business schools have an interest in mission statements that goes beyond a purely academic concern. For many colleges of business, the mission statement of the college is one of several important points of evaluation of the college. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, International (AACSB) is an accrediting organization for business education programs at the collegiate level (AACSB, 2002a). In comments about its process of evaluation, the AACSB notes that accreditation will provide assurance to the stakeholders of a business school that the process of education is guided "by a carefully constructed mission" (AACSB, 2002b).
There are numerous references to a school's mission throughout the pages of the AACSB Web site. Essentially, a school's mission statement sets out the direction of the school, relative to that which is expected of faculty, staff, and students. The various activities of a school must be consistent with the mission of the school . It should be noted that the AACSB does not set rules for the formulation of mission statements. The AACSB's focus is on content, rather than on structure.
To paraphrase the AACSB view, the mission statement is the binder, in the matrix of a school's activities. Faculty development, curricula planning, and the delivery of instruction, all should have a clearly linked relationship to the mission statement. Further, "The school's mission must be appropriate to higher education for business and management and consonant with the mission of the institution of which it is a part" . Thus, the mission of a given business school must also be linked to the academic organization of which the business school is a part.
Theoretically, the mission of a college of business is as strongly linked to the mission statement of the larger academic organization as is the mission of any other academic unit within the larger academic organization. In a sense, the mission of a college of business supports the mission of the larger academic organization, as would the mission of a liberal arts college which might be a component of the larger academic organization.
The necessity of linking a college's mission statement to the mission of the larger academic institution serves to inhibit the possible cursory adoption of a mission statement from another organization. Given that a mission statement must have a valid linkage, flowing from the larger organization, down to the activities of both the faculty and the staff of the educational unit, there are almost insurmountable restrictions on the ability of a college of business to validly copy the mission statement of another college. Even with the complexity that is inherent in the process of coordinating mission statements in academic organizations, the AACSB notes that "members overwhelmingly adopted . . . 'mission-linked' accreditation standards and procedures that support institutional diversity. . . ." . It is unlikely that the faculty and staff of a given academic unit, along with their activities, will be equal to the similar elements of any other academic unit. Just as it is expected that there will be differences between colleges, it is also expected that the mission statements of those colleges will be different.
The AACSB is not alone in its concern with linking the activities of an educational institution with its mission statement. There are numerous Web sites that focus on the mission statement of a given educational organization, with a concern toward either the writing of or the further development of the mission statement of the educational institution. In most instances, there is a call for the further development or updating of an institution's mission statement, so that it would be more in accord with the actual activities of the institution.
In a study of the mission statements of libraries associated with California educational institutions, one study examined 58 mission statements, concluding that there is an ongoing need to revise and refine the focus of library mission statements, given that libraries have complex roles in their educational environments (Bangert, 1997). It is noted that "a critical role for academic librarians is to more effectively define, synthesize, and communicate library purpose and vision in the context of institutional mission and culture." In other words, if the academic institution is to be successful, then the library must focus its mission statement toward meeting the needs of the larger institution.
Schaniel recounts the complexity of the process of formulating a viable mission statement, for an AACSB accredited school, in an in-depth case study. The focus of that case study is on merely a segment of the time that is involved in the AACSB accreditation process, with regards to one academic institution. Of the five-years recounted in the case study, "Two years were spent in establishing our mission, surveying the stakeholders, and reviewing the curriculum." The process of reviewing the mission was obviously not undertaken lightly, and numerous faculty were involved in the process.
The need to properly address the purpose of a mission statement in academic organizations has beren recognized. Too often the mission statement of academic institutions is shallow, providing insufficient guidance to the various members of the institution's community.
In a call for the development of a functional mission statement, the Ohio Board of Regents decried the indistinguishable similarity of too many mission statements in higher education. The Board issued a discussion paper, noting that there is a tendency for the mission statements of four-year colleges and universities to claim to have an "over-arching commitment to providing quality instruction, research and public service" (Ohio Board of Regents, 1993). The generality of mission statements does not provide the directional cues that are necessary in today's academic organizations.
The content of a mission statement is important to numerous members of an academic organization's community. A quick listing would include: administrators and other staff; faculty; students; potential students; alumni; potential employers of the students; educators elsewhere; competing organizations; vendors; the users of research by the organization; and, the community where the academic organization is located. While the immediate impact is on the group closest to the academic organization, the mission statement would have some importance to both potential students and others who are potential contributors to the resource base of the organization.
The Focused Mission of Business Schools
Given the mission statement requirements for AACSB accreditation, it is logical to hypothesize that AACSB accredited schools would have mission statements that were available online. In examining the Web sites of a select list of business schools, a large segment was found to have mission statements posted on their Web site. A further examination of the posted mission statements also found some elements of commonality, although no two statements were alike.
The mission statements used in this study were obtained from the Web sites of the top 50 business schools with M.B.A. programs (Wall Street Journal, 2002), as determined by a Wall Street Journal survey of corporate recruiters (Alsop, 2001). The Wall Street Journal is a reliable source of information, and it is widely read by both business school faculty, students, and others. For the purposes of this study, any AACSB associated school is treated as part of the group of AACSB accredited schools. A listing of AACSB accredited or associated schools is available online (AACSB, 2002d).
Of the 50 schools of business in the Wall Street Journal compilation, 32 were found to have a mission statement that was useful for the purposes of this study . The structure of those mission statement was examined at a basic level, e.g., word frequency; number of sentences; and, reading ease.
The structure of a mission statement can be typified in several ways. The frequency of the words used in a mission statement provides some information about the interest of the intended reader. Given the frequency categories presented in Table 1, it could be reliably supposed that highly rated business schools are concerned with business, leaders, and management.
Frequency of Words in College of Business Mission Statements  20 or More Counts business(es) leaders management 10 to 19 Counts community(ies) missions(s) school(s) world(s) knowledge practice(s) student(s) learning research teaching 5 to 9 Counts academic experience leading social create future(s) men standards development global program(s) understanding education individual quality women environment intellectual responsibility(ies) excellence leadership skill(s) Pronouns -- Five or More Counts each our their we its that this who
Table 2 presents some basic statistics for the mission statements reviewed in this study. At first look, the Flesch Reading Ease score (Flesch, n.d.) seems to indicate that the mission statements have a difficult level of readability. The problem of determining a measure of sentence length for some mission statements, however, could affect the Flesch Reading Ease score. The problem is to be expected, where a mission statement could be seen as being but one long sentence. The longer the length of a sentence, the lower is the Flesch Reading Ease score.
Word Statistics for College of Business Mission Statements  # Words # Sentences Flesch Reading Ease
63.6 2.3 23.84
47.5 2.0 19.50
55.0 1.0 31.00
The number of words might be a valid, overall, measure of mission statement complexity. From Table 2, it can be seen that the mission statements in this study tend to be brief. The smallest mission statement used seven words; the largest mission statement used 255 words.
While it appears that there is a need for mission statements, it is less clear as to what information should be explicitly presented in a mission statement. When colleges of business, in which course content may include an analysis of mission statements, are looked to for guidance, several factors are readily apparent. For the colleges that have placed their mission statements on the Web, simplicity is the norm. Simplicity in both sentence structure and word selection.
About the Author
George S. Cole, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the John L. Grove College of Business of Shippensburg University.
Notes on the Research Design
In a sense, this is a 'proof of concept' research project, which arose because of an interest in the mission statements of academic organizations. Given the AACSB's interest in mission statements, it was decided to evaluate mission statements on the Web. The nature of information presented on the Web presented some challenges.
The initial approach to this project was to go to selected college of business Web sites, and look for a mission statement, or statements about mission statements. As much as possible, publicly accessible Web sites were used. For university mission statements, per se, if a worthwhile link was not apparent on a site's home page, 'high probability' links were reviewed next, e.g., those with titles such as Message from the President or Who We Are.
Next, any available Site Map would be used, followed by whatever search engine was utilized for the site. The search phrases differed, including, besides 'mission statement', 'mission', 'statement of values', and 'vision statement'. The terms mission statement and vision statement are often seen as being interchangeable, but one site treats vision statements as being "future oriented", with mission statements being "used to describe the organization of today" (Meeting Facilitators International, n.d.). In general, site maps were found to have limited utility, even though such a feature is an important concern in Web site design (Nielsen, 2002).
When conducting a site search, searching on the word 'mission' could also return: admission, commission, and submission. The complication had to be worked with, and was particularly troublesome at sites where the search engine would not necessarily accept the inclusion of a space before the word 'mission'. Other differences relate to the rules for entering a phrase into the search engine phrase window. Thus, in lieu of a statement of search rules, any one of the following would be used: mission statement (i.e., merely two words); "mission statement" (in quotes), 'mission statement' (in apostrophes), mission AND statement (Boolean search); and (mission statement) in parenthesis.
If a mission statement, or a version of a mission statement, could not be found, an e-mail would be sent to either a Webmaster or an information officer for the organization, asking for a URL that pointed to a mission statement. If a dean's message noted the existence of a mission statement, a note would often be sent to the dean.
In one or two instances, a site's search engine would reveal the presence of a mission statement, but the statement would only be available to members of the organization. Where it appeared that two distinct versions of a mission statement were available at a given Web site, again, a note would be sent to someone in the organization, seeking a clarification.
The vagaries of defining a mission statement required a studied judgment, where ever a decision had to be made, as to which paragraphs of a given statement were merely history or value statements, or as to which statements had no apparent relationship to directions or objectives. For that matter, some Web sites presented information in a format that did not rely on standard structures for either sentences or paragraphs, but favored concerns with issues of site design, relative to the Web site.
1. Google was selected because of both its well-ranked status and my familiarity with the program. In a search on the phrase "mission statement," it returned the most hits, when compared to several other sites. Of course, that does not necessarily represent a finding as to the quality, the viability, or the relevance of the hits. A ranking of Web search engines was provided by Barlow (2002). Additional information, may be found at both Notess (2001a) and Notess (2001b).
2. Numerous business strategy academic sites are on the Web, often being presented as Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations, e.g., http://www.uwstout.edu/ctem/business/adekolaa/STRAMGT/powerpoints/Wal-Mart%20-%202000.ppt, and http://faculty.db.erau.edu/fedorovi/ChapterEight.ppt.
3. AACSB, 2002c, p. 11, M.5.
4. AACSB, 2002c, p. 11, M.2.
5. AACSB, 2002c, p. 3.
6. Of the 50 schools in the Wall Street Journal survey, some did not have a publicly accessible mission statement online, or, in response to e-mail, were otherwise unable to provide access to their mission statement. Even for those that posted a mission statement, the focus of this study was on the segment of the statement that presented a mission or a discussion of the mission, per se, rather than on any mention of other elements, e.g., the number and quality of students; or the basic history of the school. Where more than one statement of a mission was found at a site, the explicit statement was favored over a less complete or less explicit statement.
7. The Wordlist routine, of the software program HAMLET for Windows© (Brier, 2002), was used to determine the frequency of words contained in a composite file of the text of thirty-two useable mission statements.
8. The software program Web2Text (Burke, 1999), an HTML to ASCII text converter, was used to convert Web pages to a text format. The Readability Statistics routine, of Microsoft® Word 97, SR-2, was used to compile the frequency and readability statistics.
The posted mission statements did not necessarily follow an essay format, so the measurement of certain mission statement elements was judgmental. As an example, a bulleted listing, in a mission statement, would usually be treated, by software, as if all items were part of one sentence, unless a period was used at the end of each item on the list. Often, the listing of items used incomplete sentences and, thus, in total, appeared to be part of one very long sentence, by text analysis software.
AACSB, 2002a, "About Us," at http://www.aacsb.edu/aboutus.asp, accessed 20 June 2002.
AACSB, 2002b, "Accreditation," at http://www.aacsb.edu/accreditation/, accessed 20 June 2002.
AACSB, 2002c, "Accreditation: Accreditation Standards," [PDF file: Current Standards - Business] at http://www.aacsb.edu/accreditation/standards.asp, accessed 20 June 2002.
AACSB, 2002d, "Alphabetical Listing of AACSB International Accredited Institutions," at http://www.aacsb.edu/accreditation/AccreditedMembers.asp, accessed 20 June 2002.
Ron Alsop, 2001. "Study Takes Fresh Look At Business-School Rankings," The Wall Street Journal Online, at http://www.careerjournal.com/specialreports/bschoolguide/20010430-alsop-qanda.html, accessed 18 December 2001.
Stephanie Rogers Bangert, 1997. "Thinking Boldly! College and University Library Mission Statements as Roadsigns to the Future," at http://www.ala.org/acrl/paperhtm/c23.html, accessed 7 August 2001.
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Christopher K. Bart, n.d. "The Official Corporate Mission Statements Home Page," at http://www.corporatemissionsinc.com/, accessed 10 December 2001.
Alan Brier, 2002. "Hamlet for Windows©, v184.108.40.206" [Software program, computer-assisted text analysis], at http://www.apb.cwc.net/download.htm, accessed 11 January 2002.
Damien Burke, 1999. "Web2Text, v1.6" [Software program, HTML to ASCII converter], at http://www.jetman.dircon.co.uk/software/web2text.html, accessed 10 January 2002.
Catbert's Anti Career Center, n.d. "Mission Statement Generator," at http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/career/bin/ms2.cgi, accessed 22 December 2001.
Rudolph Flesch, n.d. "How to Write Plain English, Chapter 2," at http://www.mang.canterbury.ac.nz/courseinfo/AcademicWriting/Flesch.htm, accessed 10 May 2002.
Donna Klinger, 1998. "Getting Religion ... for Change," at http://www.nacubo.org/Website/members/bomag/9809/religion.html, accessed 3 October 2001.
Patricia A. Lapoint, n.d. "Components of an Effective Mission Statement," at http://www.mcm.edu/~lapointp/missionstatementcomponents.html, accessed 10 December 2001.
Tim Mazzarol, 2000. "Do Formal Business Plans Really Matter? - A Survey of Small Business Owners in Australia," from ICSB Proceedings, June 2000, at http://www.sbaer.uca.edu/Research/2000/ICSB/pt1/034MAZ.PDF, accessed 7 December 2001.
Barbara McRae, 1997. "The Top 10 Keys to Crafting a Compelling Mission Statement," Coachville Resource Center, at http://topten.org/public/BD/BD105.html, accessed 22 December 2001.
Meeting Facilitators International, n.d. "Developing a Mission Statement, Facilitation Case Study," in Developing a Mission Statement, at http://www.facilitators.com/developing_a_mission_statement.htm, accessed 21 April 2001.
Jakob Nielsen, 2002. "Site Map Usability," The Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability (6 January), at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20020106.html, accessed 9 February 2002.
Greg Notess, 2001a, "Tracking Title Search Capabilities," Online (May), at http://www.onlinemag.net/OL2001/net5_01.html, accessed 24 December 2001.
Greg Notess, 2001b, "Search Engine Showdown: The Users' Guide to Web Searching," at http://www.searchengineshowdown.com/, accessed 22 December 2001.
Ohio Board of Regents, 1993. "The Concept and Preparation of a Functional Mission," at http://www.regents.state.oh.us/plandocs/functmiss.html, accessed 26 November 2001.
William C. Schaniel, 2000. "American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business Accreditation: A Case Study," at http://www.westga.edu/~bquest/2000/aacsb.html, accessed 16 December 2001.
Mark Smith; Ronald B. Heady, Paula Phillips Carson, and Kerry David Carson, 2001. "Do Missions Accomplish their Missions? An Exploratory Analysis of Mission Statement Content and Organizational Longevity," at http://www.huizenga.nova.edu/jame/Missions.htm, accessed 10 December 2001.
A.M. Stone, n.d. "Developing your Mission Statement," at http://www.amstone.net/Planning/mission.htm, accessed 6 December 2001.
Wall Street Journal, 2002. "Top Schools Overall," in Career Journal, at http://www.careerjournal.com/specialreports/bschoolguide/overall.html, accessed 18 December 2001.
Paper received 25 June 2002; accepted 22 July 2002.
Copyright ©2002, First Monday
Copyright ©2002, George S. Cole
Online Mission Statements: Briefly Stated by George S. Cole
First Monday, volume 7, number 8 (August 2002),