As we emerge from a tumultuous year, defined by the first global pandemic for over a century, there have been many calls to build back a better, greener, more inclusive world.
Corporate leaders need to heed those calls.
There are encouraging signs that something is changing from the better. A first of its kind “values valued most” survey across 22 national markets and 19 industries by /amo, shows companies around the world are trying hard to position themselves as caring members of the community.
The report compared the thousands of values espoused by over 500 of the world’s largest companies with those of the previous year. Almost half, or 47 per cent, cited at least one value expressing concern for people & community – an 11 per cent increase.
Corporate jargon for expressing concern can take many forms, ranging from phrases such as “engagement” or “giving back” to “solidarity” or “people orientated”.
Values of good corporate citizenship ranked the most popular globally, overtaking a focus on high standards of ethics and integrity. The broader sense of social responsibility, however, comes at the expense of a narrow focus on employees and customers, with the number of companies expressing concern for consumers slipping significantly over the last year.
As a result of the pandemic, there was a renewed focus on health and safety. This was particularly stark in the UK, with the largest 35 listed companies all including health concerns at the top of their corporate values.
There is also a clear indication that companies are increasingly looking further into the future. Long-term and global thinking shot up the values chart, with phrases such as “enduring relationships” or “perspective” or “foresight” rising 27.8 per cent in the last year, even if it was only quoted by a minority of companies.
A more universal sense of concern about people and community, beyond a company’s immediate stakeholders, should be applauded. Large listed corporations have long recognised that their “license to operate” extends far beyond the immediate interests of shareholders, customers and employees, and today encompasses sustainability, social responsibility and governance.
These trends are a source of optimism for the future. Corporate values are the clearest indication of how companies wish to be perceived by their stakeholders. This is especially acute at a time when those stakeholders are becoming increasingly articulate in their demands of business, enabled by social media in what has been called a “post-truth fake news society”.
However, a company stating their values is only the beginning of the story.
The communication of corporate values is vital in the process of building positive perceptions among stakeholders; but these perceptions will not be sustained unless clearly demonstrated by corporate behaviour. All the companies reviewed here which have expressed their values in their key corporate communications tool – namely, the annual report – are demonstrating a willingness not only to make their aspirations public, but to be judged by those high standards they have set themselves.