Making Your School's Mission Count

The College of Business at Loyola Marymount University crafts a new mission statement that captures its central objective: to be a force for good.
Making Mission Count

IN THE SUMMER of 2018, when I became dean of Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business Administration (CBA), the college had just completed its AACSB peer review team visit for its maintenance of accreditation. As we were laying out our five-year strategic plan, I worried: How will we stay relevant? How will we create a distinctive mission that sustains us as a business college?

Founded in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions, the CBA historically has been well-grounded in ethics and a commitment to educating the whole person. But even so, we lacked a way of talking about who we were and why it mattered. I discovered this soon after I arrived at LMU. During my “dean’s listening tour,” I met with each faculty and staff member individually, and connected with alumni, students, and employers to learn what they believed were our greatest challenges, opportunities, and aspirations. I wanted to better understand what LMU and the CBA meant to them, and get a feel for the values, norms, and underlying assumptions that characterized the organization.

I learned that our mission didn’t capture what made us unique. To distinguish ourselves from our competitors, we would need to think differently.

The aggregated data I gathered during my listening tour provided a foundation for what would be a yearlong soul-searching process for our faculty and staff. We wrestled with issues such as the changing nature of business disciplines and the goals for teaching and learning. We asked stakeholders to articulate what they thought constituted transformative business leadership in the Jesuit-Marymount tradition.

Once our strategic planning committee drafted a five-year plan, we posted its major tenets in the dean’s conference room. Over three months, the CBA community was invited to provide feedback, written on Post-it Notes and in a common file on Dropbox. The committee also solicited feedback via open houses.

The results of this process were twofold. First, we now have a five-year strategic plan that is collectively owned by our stakeholders. Second, we have a clear and concise new mission statement: “We advance knowledge and develop business leaders with moral courage and creative confidence to be a force for good in the global community.”

INTEGRATING THE MISSION

Once the mission statement was finalized in spring 2019, we looked to capture some early wins. As a first step, the CBA became a signatory to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). Next, we charged our interdisciplinary Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainability with helping our faculty and students coalesce around the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In response, the institute hosted a summit on global sustainability.

In addition, the institute modified our annual intercollegiate business ethics competition. Held each spring, the competition brings college students from four continents to LMU to present original cases. This year, 30 teams tackled challenges inspired by the SDGs and presented arguments on how business can be a force for good.

Next, we worked with faculty to integrate the mission into a bold new core curriculum. We asked each department to elucidate how its major might reinforce the mission. The marketing department, for example, developed the Applied Learning in Societal Transformation— or the A-List Pathway. Marketing faculty created new courses in which students worked with community-based organizations, explored nonprofit marketing, and analyzed advertising strategies for making a social impact.

Entrepreneurship developed three new pathways for its major—one in startup/ new venture management, one in corporate innovation, and one in social entrepreneurship. In the social entrepreneurship pathway, for instance, students and faculty study how social entrepreneurs in underrepresented communities develop profitable enterprises.

This past spring, students taking a course in this pathway hosted documentary filmmaker Thomas Morgan in our monthly film series, “CBA Night at the Movies: Cleaning Up Dirty Business.” The students watched Morgan’s film “Soufra,” about a group of women living in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon; it describes how these women launched their own food truck business with the help of a microloan. Students spoke with Morgan and our entrepreneurship faculty after the screening. The students also hosted a fundraising dinner and sold cookbooks authored by the refugee women to support the Soufra organization.

Our entrepreneurship faculty and students have worked with colleagues from science and engineering on sustainability activities. These include a startup weekend, pitch competitions, a universitywide fellows program, and new venture courses, all sponsored by our Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship. We encourage participants to design solutions that will help “create the world we want to live in.”

Finally, this past summer, the CBA launched The Good Lab, an interdisciplinary center where students and faculty from different business disciplines collaborate on mission-related projects ranging from consulting to creating reports for external stakeholders. In one project, students worked with faculty and a university benefactor to create a marketing plan and profit-sharing scheme related to pet care products, to benefit animal shelters across the country. This fall, The Good Lab will work with Goodwill Industries in Southern California to use analytics to determine the impact of job training in local communities. The lab also will create an annual report to share information about companies doing good in the region.

LIVING THE MISSION

We knew that an even bigger challenge would be to engage students in “living the mission.” For that reason, we developed a co-curricular component to the CBA experience that would cross disciplines and divisions. We call this component The CBA Advantage.

As part of this initiative, students complete curricular, extracurricular, and co-curricular activities that will help them develop knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) related to five core competencies inherent to our mission. These include business knowledge, leadership, moral courage (and business ethics), creative confidence, and global citizenship. We worked with the university’s career and professional development team to identify relevant offerings, campus events, and events in the nearby Silicon Beach community. For more details, see “The CBA Advantage” below.

The next question we faced: How will we track students’ progress toward achieving these competencies? For this, we asked a team of recent graduates from our entrepreneurship program to work with faculty and the dean’s office to develop a mobile app students can use to track their own progress. In addition to promoting relevant activities, the app will “gamify” the tracking process by enabling our undergraduates to earn points throughout their four-year programs for their participation in eligible activities, as well as track their KSAs—especially those required for degree completion.

Our app developers have formed a company outside of the university to continue working on this project—the CBA is acting as an angel investor. The hope is that eventually the app will be customizable for other schools that want to help students track activities aligned with the mission. Their company and the CBA are working with the registrar and our chief technology officer to integrate the app with Banner, the university’s administration software.

This effort has inspired us to re-evaluate our approaches to assessment, assurance of learning, and impact in the years ahead. We are experimenting with new metrics in the app for assessing students’ progress toward KSAs and the CBA’s PRME activity. We will pilot the app in the 2019– 2020 academic year and plan its full roll-out in the fall of 2020.

DEFINING SUCCESS

I find it rare that a college’s faculty know the school’s mission statement by heart. But at the CBA, I now hear our mission more often in our faculty’s presentations. When student tour guides walk prospective students through our building, I hear them describe how the CBA lives its mission as they point to the mission statement on the wall.

Sometimes our mission is communicated in more unexpected ways that might be even bigger indicators of success. For example, I attended an annual student-run accounting awards banquet, for which the theme of the evening program was “moral courage and creative confidence.” One of the student co-chairs told me they had chosen that theme after a professor had “challenged us to think about how the words in the mission apply to accounting practice.”

Next on our agenda? We plan to challenge our first-year students in a required course called Business as a Force for Good, where they will explore the impact of business on sustainable development in the global community.

When we started this journey, we had many questions: Will faculty, staff, and students get excited about the mission? Will they make it part of their courses and value systems? Will we get buy-in from across the university to make mission-driven activities requirements for graduation? Will faculty integrate our new app into their courses and other activities?

In short, if we build it, will they come?

Early results have been promising, but we must continue to live the mission every day. To quote one of our marketing professors, our mission statement must be “wearable and shareable.” We’ve worked hard to capture our mission in one bold sentence that is not just memorable, but meaningful enough to inspire our community to be a force for good in the world.

Dayle M. Smith is the dean of Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business Administration in Los Angeles, California.

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