Understanding corporate behaviours and values: A quick guide for academics

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When academics venture into the corporate world they may encounter references to ‘behaviours and values’. Although academic practice is of course underpinned by certain values (exemplified in academic guidance on issues such as plagiarism and research integrity), few academics will have been asked to consider these explicitly, still less to provide concrete examples of how their own behaviours might fit with the values of the corporate world in which they aspire to work. So, how is it best to translate academic experience into this aspect of corporate life?

Shared values, different behaviours?

One of the key differences between academia and the corporate world is that while both share values – and both commonly operate in accordance with a set of agreed core values – their approach to behaviours differs somewhat. As public or semi-public bodies universities are obliged to operate in accordance with the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995 (also known as the Nolan Principles). These are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.  University regulations for staff and students in effect stipulate the professional behaviours required to meet these principles. Behaviours in academic life are therefore governed by the fact that all academics remain in effect public-facing (even though the boundaries have been blurred by the marketization of the sector).

In the corporate world, values may look very similar to the seven principles, but they are usually determined not by reference to the idea of public service, but by the corporate goals that underlie them, including the goal of maximising profit for shareholders. Since these values are contingent upon the market, the behaviours required of staff to meet them – and indeed, the behaviours of management - may change.

Doing your homework: Corporate behaviours

Of course, it’s easy enough to do an internet search or similar for the core values of any given institution, but far harder to find out what the reality on the ground is like when it comes to aligning behaviours with these values. But here’s a test you can do. Once you know what the company’s stated core values are, take a look at some of the changes it has made in recent years. Has it made any significant policy changes, for instance? Has it laid off any workforce? Or invested in a particular area? Once you try mapping any such changes to its stated values you will get a clearer picture of how its own values and behaviours align.

Another approach is to analyse employee survey data, where available. This can give you an invaluable insight into how a company’s values are really being translated into behaviour on the ground.

Lastly, don’t forget online forums and social media: these can provide you with a ground-level view of what it’s really like to work for your target employer (although don’t forget that such sources are not necessarily verifiable!).

Doing your homework: Your behaviours

It’s just as important to have a clear view of how your own behaviours meet institutional values, and how these might be expressed in terms of corporate behaviours. On top of the Nolan principles described above, many universities also cite values such as community, inclusiveness, professionalism, excellence, continuous improvement, timeliness, fair and equal treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and expression, ethical standards, promoting equality and diversity, evaluation and self-reflection, respect. The list goes on. Examine your university’s statements on this matter (set out in mission statements, staff / student handbooks) and so on, and draw them up as a table. Now make a list of any teaching, research, administration, and mentoring activities you have been involved in, and cross-refer them with your list of values. Next, flesh out some of these as concrete examples of behaviours addressing specific values.

Get ready for the interview

Many academics seeking to move into the corporate world stumble on the question of behaviours and values, even though their own professional experience is probably highly value-driven. Remember: it’s just a difference of emphasis, not a qualitative difference between the sectors. Do your homework, and you’ll sail through any direct questioning on behaviours and values, and who knows?  - you might even have a few questions on that subject to put to your interviewees.


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