The importance of values has been brought into stark focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the stress and disruption of lockdown, organisations found a clear and living statement of their values invaluable as a tool to guide decision-making and navigate the crisis. As we move into an era of living with COVID, people are scrutinising the values of organisations more intensely, both as consumers and as employees. They are making more choices based on the day-to-day values they experience in their interactions with companies.
We analysed the language of websites and annual reports of 221 UK companies with four main questions in view:
- What are the organisational values of UK firms?
- How do firms define their values?
- How do firms select their values?
- How do firms put their values into practice?
Our results identified a total of 42 distinct values in UK companies, with businesses listing 4 values on average. We found that –
1. Collaboration is the number one value in UK businesses, with the previous poll leader, integrity, at number two. Lessons of large-scale collaboration during the COVID pandemic remain relevant as does the sustained importance of intentional ethical practice.
2. Empathy, passion and courage are prominent values that did not feature significantly in earlier reports. They highlight the increasing importance of personal and emotional aspects of organisational life.
3. In spite of research supporting their importance, curiosity, humility, hope, and gratitude are scarcely used values in business.
4. When it comes to the selection of values, 82% of companies that describe their process refer to a top-down approach. Only 18% indicate a more collaborative process.
5. Companies consistently express high aspirations when it comes to embedding their values but the language describing how this is done in practice is vague.
Values in Practice
Our research not only explored what values are stated by UK companies, but investigated what they say when it comes to how they select their values and seek to embed them in organisational culture and practice.
Of our total sample, 82% of companies describe how they attempt to embed their values. Of these, the most commonly cited approaches are:
80% – Policy alignment
57% – Employee engagement
56% – Financial incentives
55% – Leadership driven
The importance of measuring how well values are embedded was emphasised by 52% of companies. Common approaches include anonymous surveys to understand employees' opinions and experiences as well as more objective metrics such as employee diversity figures to assess the value of diversity and inclusion, and incident reports to evaluate safety.
Why do values matter?
We analysed the organisational benefits cited by companies in relation to their values. Nine key themes stood out, covering a wide range of essential business issues. Percentages on the left reflect the number of companies which link their values with each benefit.
Comparison with other surveys
Before our research, the most recent UK-focused survey was completed by Maitland in 2015, focusing on the FTSE 100 only. MIT Sloan published a survey of 562 large US companies in 2020 based on 2018 analysis of publicly stated values. AMO Strategic Advisors explored global values in 2021 by analysing 525 companies across 22 markets and 19 industry sectors. While these three surveys found Integrity to be the top value, in our survey collaboration tops the list. A detailed comparison can be found in the report below.
For any queries related to the survey, please write to email@example.com.
We explored companies’ stated values and also analysed the descriptions used to explain them. The interactive graphic below allows you to explore the range of meaning for the top 10 values listed. Click on a segment of the large pie chart then hover your cursor over the smaller pie to see what companies say their values relate to.