Creating a Sense of Mission

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Long Range Planning, Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 10 to 20, 1991 Printed in Great Britain

0024-6301/91 $3.00 + .OO Pergamon Press plc

Creating
Andrew Campbell

a Sense of Mission
and Sally Yeung

Mission is still a relatively neglected area of management, and there is no clear agreement on what it encompasses. The Ashridge Strategic Management Centre conducted a 2-year research project designed to fill this gap. The research found that if mission is more clearly defined it can be managed better, and developed a model of mission that includes four elements -purpose, strategy, behaviour standards and values. The project identified companies where, in addition to strong links between these elements, employees also showedan emotional commitment to their company which Campbell has called a Sense of mission’. This commitment was deepest when there was a match between the employee’s values and the company% values.

others see it as the bedrock of a company’s strength, identity and success-its personality and character. Despite the diversity of opinion about mission, it is possible to distinguish two schools of thought. Broadly speaking, one approach describes mission in terms of business strategy, while the other expresses mission in terms of philosophy and ethics. The strategy school of thought views mission primarily as a strategic tool, an intellectual discipline which defines the business’s commercial rationale and target market. Mission is something that is linked to strategy but at a higher level. In this context, it is perceived as the first step in strategic management. It exists to answer two fundamental questions: ‘what is our business and what should it be?‘. The strategy school of mission owes its birth to an article, ‘Marketing Myopia’, which appeared in the Harvard Businesr Review in 1960.’ The author, Ted Levitt, a Harvard marketing professor, argued that many companies have the wrong business definition. Most particularly, companies define their businesses too narrowly. Levitt reasoned that a railroad company should see its business as moving people rather than. railroading, an oil company should define its business as energy and a company making tin cans should see itself as a packaging Levitt argued, should spend business. Managers, time carefully defining their business so that they focus on customer need rather than on production technology. More recently, it has become common for companies to include a statement of what their business is in the annual report. The cover of the 1988 annual report of Redland, a roofing, aggregates and construction materials company, is an example. It reads: Spanning the Roojing World with

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Many managers misunderstand the nature and importance of mission, while others fail to consider it at all. As far back as 1973, Peter Drucker’ and business observed : ‘That business purpose mission are so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure’. Unfortunately, his comment is as true today as it was then.

Understanding

Mission?

The reason for this neglect is due in part to the fact that mission is still a relatively uncharted arca of management. Most management thinkers have given mission only a cursory glance, and there is little research into its nature and importance. What research there is has been devoted to analysing mission statements and attempting to develop checklists of items that should be addressed in the statement.* Indeed, a major problem is that mission has become a meaningless term-no two academics or managers agree on the same definition. Some speak of mission as if it is commercial evangelism, others talk about strong corporate cultures and still others talk about business definitions. Some view mission as an esoteric and somewhat irrelevant preoccupation which haunts senior managers, while Andrew Campbell is a founding Director and Fellow of the Ashridge Strategic Management...
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