Most prominent UK business values do not include humility or gratitude

The value referenced most frequently by business, according to a new report from Oxford University researchers, is collaboration, followed by integrity, excellence, customer service, and creativity – with humility, hope and gratitude cited by the fewest – although humility has been linked with executive success.

Data from 221 companies, the majority from the FTSE 350, forms the foundation of the report UK Business Values Survey 2022. It is the first significant survey of its kind in seven years and was led by The Oxford Character Project – in collaboration with the Forward Institute.

Dr Edward Brooks, Executive Director of the Oxford Character Project, says, ‘Our survey of UK business values…expands previous work, exploring companies’ values – and what they mean by their values and how they are seeking to put them into practice.’

The findings highlight the increasing importance of personal and emotional values in organisational life. Empathy, passion, and courage are among the emerging values in UK businesses which did not feature significantly in earlier reports.

The findings highlight the increasing importance of personal and emotional values in organisational life…But… curiosity, humility, hope, and gratitude seem to be significantly undervalued

But, at the bottom of the table, curiosity, humility, hope, and gratitude seem to be significantly undervalued. In spite of research supporting their importance, these values are hardly mentioned – and not at all by firms in the worlds of finance and law.

The importance of values in business has been brought into stark focus during the pandemic. In periods of extreme stress, companies with clear and living statements of values found them invaluable as a tool to guide decision-making and navigate the crisis.

And the values of companies are often scrutinised intensely, by consumers and employees – and choices based on interactions with businesses and the values they experience.

In spite of research supporting their importance, these values are hardly mentioned – and not at all by firms in the worlds of finance and law.

Dr Edward adds, ‘Our research is part of a larger project exploring character, culture and leadership in UK business. As companies seek to put values into practice, a focus on character development, organisational design, and responsible leadership can help businesses to join aspiration to action. We will take a deep dive into companies in finance, technology, and law to reveal how virtues such as courage, kindness, humility, and hope provide a new paradigm of “character leadership” that can help individuals and organisations to flourish.’

Future studies from the Oxford Character Project in 2022-23 will build on the UK Business Values Survey, providing insight into important virtues of character and organisational ecosystems with a specific focus on leadership.

Along with sector-specific insights, the upcoming publications will share the results of research on character and responsible leadership in UK businesses, including an analysis of over 120 interviews with employees from 20 UK companies, and a widescale quantitative analysis of the qualities associated with “good leadership” at different levels in organisations and across sectors.

The UK Business Values Survey 2022 was made possible through the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation.

About the Oxford Character Project

Founded in 2014, the Oxford Character Project joins cutting edge research on character and leadership in the humanities and social sciences to the design and delivery of student programmes at the University of Oxford and in partnership with other leading global universities and commercial organisations. We are currently undertaking a £2.6m research project on character and responsible leadership in UK businesses.

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