Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2017.0254

The growing number of studies referencing the concept of mission drift implies that such drift is an undesirable strategic outcome related to inconsistent organizational action, yet beyond such references, little is known about how mission drift occurs, how it impacts organizations, and how organizations should respond. Existing management theory more broadly offers initial albeit equivocal insight for understanding mission drift. On the one hand, prior studies have argued that inconsistent or divergent action can lead to weakened stakeholder commitment and reputational damage. On the other hand, scholars have suggested that because environments are complex and dynamic, such action is necessary for ensuring organizational adaptation and, thus, survival. In this study we offer a theory of mission drift that unpacks its origin, clarifies its variety, and specifies how organizations might respond to external perceptions of mission drift. The resulting conceptual model addresses the aforementioned theoretical tension and offers novel insight into the relationship between organizational actions and identity.

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