What’s really at the core?

June 25, 2019
6 min
New cover img 545x363 1

Today’s Fortune 500 company values brought to life

Key Questions:

  1. How many total core values are typical for Fortune 500 organizations?
  2. How varied are the unique descriptors of Fortune 500 values?
  3. What are the top ten Fortune 500 core values? 
  4. How many Fortune 500 organizations include these top values on their list?
  5. How many Fortune 500 companies embrace a ‘people first’ value?
  6. Do these core values have real meaning if they are not made actionable?

As today’s middle market organizations look up to the Fortune 500 ‘big players’ for sustainable growth insights and guidance, a singular important element stands out: VALUES. In our first book, The Science of Story, we detailed 1) how a company’s purpose is the key for inspiring team members and  2) how values ultimately guide a call to action for shared behaviors and mindsets. Until now, no one has studied Fortune 500 values in aggregate form. Our team has finally taken the first steps of discovery in order to wipe away this blindspot. We hope this investigation sparks a global dialogue about best practices for the future landscape of business and invite you to take part and share in the discussion.

Our latest research of Fortune 500 companies calculates 2,054 explicit core values gathered from a total of 397 organizations who have made them publicly available on their company website. Here is a link to the raw public data we collected for each organization that includes company name, industry, number of employees, link to the values tab on their website and lastly the listed core values (in order of stated appearance). With this data sheet as the foundation, our team was able to address several important questions.

1) How many total core values are typical for Fortune 500 organizations?

Regardless of the number, company values showcase the essence of identity for these successful organizations and drive important internal and external business functions. (Figure A)  provides a snapshot numeric range of total listed values.


What’s really at the core?

2) How varied are the unique descriptors of Fortune 500 values?  

As you can imagine, many of these values are given unique titles based on the verbiage and sentiment used from each specific organization (even though the messaging actually aligns to a more universal category). For example, the universal value of ‘CUSTOMER’ may be stated as ‘Customer First’, ‘Client Centric’, ‘Customer Service’, ‘Dedication to our Customers’, etc. Or perhaps the basic value of ‘INTEGRITY’ may be listed as ‘Act with Integrity’, ‘Do The Right Thing’, ‘Honesty and Integrity’ ‘Ethical and Trustworthy’, etc. More examples include the value of ‘DIVERSITY & INCLUSION’ (D&I)  that are found to be expressed as ‘Every Voice Matters’, ‘Champion Diversity’, ‘Stand for Equality’, ‘Friendly and Inclusive’, etc. 

It should be noted that several value statements embody multiple categories and are treated as such by the coding we compiled (ex. ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ is coded both for the value category ‘D&I and ‘FINANCE’ or ‘Environmental Stewardship’ is coded both for ‘STEWARDSHIP’ and ‘COMMUNITY’).

After painstakingly scanning through and coding the 2,054 available Fortune 500 values, we have documented a total of 56 streamlined value categories. Here is the list of all 56 coded value categories that our team compiled along with all of the specific value variations (based on organization sentiment).

What’s really at the core?

3) What are the top ten Fortune 500 core values?

Why should we care about a list of the top values within these organizations? Simply put, access to this shows what is truly important for the culture of the Fortune 500 organizations and how their leadership team intends to be represented to the world. For new companies and/or existing ones that are launching the process of reshaping their own values and desired behaviors, this reference can be very helpful. (Figure B) shows the top ten values that have been calculated after our coding efforts along with the total number of appearances across all available Fortune 500 organizations.


What’s really at the core?

(Figure C) displays the remaining 46 categories plus their total number of appearances.


What’s really at the core?

4) How many Fortune 500 organizations include these top values on their list?

 Interestingly, we found that ALL but 5 of these companies included at least one of the top 10 categories within their own list of values. This indicates that these values are nearly universal across the Fortune 500 companies that share their values online.

5) How many Fortune 500 companies embrace a ‘people first’ value?

Within the collection of various representations from our 56 value categories, there is an intriguing data point in regards to the  ‘CUSTOMER’ and ‘PEOPLE’ core values. A total number of 82 companies (Kohl’s, MetLife, Morgan Stanley,etc.) included a ‘Customers First’ value on their public list while only 23 of the Fortune 500 organizations (Home Depot, McDonalds, WestLake,etc.) included ‘Our People First’ as a listed value. We interpret this as an interesting focus among these companies that should certainly be explored more especially in regards to leadership development.

6) Do these core values have real meaning if they are not made actionable?

Values may look professional on an office wall or artistically designed on a company’s website. But is it possible to associate a real value to these core values? Is their impact measurable on the bottom line? 

A few years ago, this question was examined within the S&P 500 companies by an international group of researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance in Italy. In their research, there was no relationship between the selected values and any real business outcomes. When the researchers examined survey responses from employees in the same companies, they found that when employees perceived top managers as trustworthy and ethical, the firm’s performance was stronger. In summary, “advertised values” are only as good as the culture they represent. It doesn’t matter what a company’s values are. What truly matters is whether or not they are lived, especially by managers. If there is no actionable behavior connected to a core value then its use is nothing more than for show.

John Paul

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