Toward collective organizational values: a case study in UK construction

Values have held a prominent place in business ethics and organisational theories in recent years. Some organisations now aim to integrate values into their business practices, which requires a thorough understanding of the organisational values. However, whilst many believe organisational values should reflect the collective values of the staff, the majority of values statements are generated by senior management with little examination of employees’ personal values. The difficulties surrounding the development of an organisation’s values are exacerbated by the dearth of literature offering practical guidance. The case study presented has been conducted in a UK construction company using Schwartz’s theoretical framework of human values as a starting point and framing device. Employees’ values profiles were collected and analysed through an organisational-wide values survey. Follow-up workshops and post workshop activities facilitated the sharing of common values and helped staff representatives develop their own organisational values statements, independent of the senior management, before a final stage of negotiation with them. The findings support the argument that the shaping of collective organisational values should be based on a clear understanding and communication of employees’ personal values, and Schwartz’s circumplex model of values and associated survey instrument are helpful framing devices to initiate and structure such a debate. Compared to the usual management-imposed approach, this bottom-up process could make organisational values explicit in a more understandable and useful way, and improve values congruence between individuals and host organisations.