An increasing number of UK companies are spotlighting their values and purpose, featuring them prominently on their websites, in their annual reports and other public documents. They frequently speak of their values as being integral to the achievement of a desirable corporate culture and crucial for commercial success. This focus has only heightened through the COVID-19 pandemic and recent discussion of the role of business in society. Several recent studies have identified the sorts of values commonly being espoused by leading corporations. For example, MIT/Sloan recently partnered with Glassdoor to identify upwards of 62 distinct values amongst a sample of 562 large corporations (2019). Luigo Guiso et al. conducted similar research in 2015, identifying nine recurring value categories in a survey of S&P 500 companies.
Shifting the focus to the UK, our enquiry builds upon and extends this work in at least three notable ways. First, we probe more deeply into the values and purpose statements of our focal sectors: financial services, tech, law and business more widely. Second, in addition to mapping the values that firms are currently embracing, we also take note of what companies are saying about what their values mean, why they have them, how they select them, and how values and purpose relate. Finally, we document how companies seek to embed their values, as they strive to see them brought to life throughout the organisation. This work relates to our fundamental hypothesis that character plays a crucial role in embedding values and purpose in organisations.
Our research aims for this project are to identify the following:
- The values are most commonly being reported within and across our focal sectors;
- How companies understand the benefits of operating as values-based organisations;
- The embedding interventions companies are relying on to ensure that their values are maximally operationalised.
To achieve this, we have conducted a content analysis of 221 organisational annual reports and websites in the finance (N = 47), law (N = 55), and tech (N = 47) sectors, as well as business more generally (N = 72). With reliance on NVivo, this project utilises content analysis as a means of answering the research questions, enabling us to systematically identify meaning from the text through a partial quantification of the qualitative data. An interactive set of pre-defined categories (core nodes) were established with reference to our research questions, with new sub-nodes created as suggested by the data.
This research will yield an up-to-date picture of the values and values-embedding strategies endorsed by UK companies and industry sectors. It will enable companies to reflect on the meaning of their own values in relation to other organisations and it will advance understanding of common practice when it comes to the way companies go about selecting their values, and the strategies they adopt to embed them in practice.
When complemented with interview and survey data, this research will allow us to compare what companies say about their values with the lived experience of employees and common perceptions of good leadership. It will also enable us to better identify the intellectual and moral character strengths (virtues) that are particularly relevant for leaders and organisations to act on their values and purpose.