Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center, and Marcianne Gagliardi, program manager, wrote this blog post.
The Bauer Leadership Center celebrated its fifth anniversary this year. It has been five years since George and Carol Bauer’s generous and visionary gift made possible the launch of a new Olin center dedicated to advancing the science and practice of values-based leadership.
We have come a long way in those five years, and many of the aspirations we had when we launched are now a reality. We aspired to sponsor courses and programs that would help students learn the value and master the skills of values-based leadership. Through courses like Leadership in the Trenches, Defining Moments, Values-Based/Data-Driven Leadership Development, Women in Leadership and the Bauer Fellows Program, that aspiration is being realized. We aspired to develop our own approach to developing leaders, an approach grounded in the science of leadership development and the distinct values of the Bauer Center and Olin Business School.
Through the Bauer competency model, assessment framework and network of certified coaches, that vision has now taken shape. And we aspired to promote cutting-edge research on values-based leadership that would change the dialogue in academic and practitioner circles. Through research partnerships, global academic conferences and targeted research funding, those aspirations are also being realized.
This report summarizes some of our recent efforts. I invite you to learn more about what we are doing and to get involved in our programs, symposia, courses and conferences. And please reach out with questions or ideas for collaboration or just to make a connection.
On May 3, the Bauer Day of Impact brought together family and friends to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Bauer Leadership Center and a personal milestone for George Bauer (pictured at top): his 90th birthday.
Today’s consumers are more attuned to brands’ values and willing to pay a premium to support companies that share their values, according to new research from the Bauer Leadership Center at Olin and Vrity, a brand measurement company specializing in values.
Additionally, the majority of consumers—54%—now say companies should take a stand on issues, even if they disagree with that stance.
The findings come from a survey conducted in January 2021 by Vrity. Researchers wanted to study generational differences in consumer values and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted brand-related purchasing behaviors. They surveyed 1,072 people living across America about recent employment changes, personal values and the brand values that matter most to them.
“I think the most interesting findings are about generational similarities and differences in values, causes, and the effect of values and causes on purchasing behavior,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance at Olin Business School.
“2020 was an inflection point for many Americans,” added Jesse Wolfersberger, CEO and co-founder of Vrity. “Some percentage always cared about brand values, but now we’ve crossed a threshold where most people care and are willing to make purchase decisions based on values. It’s the new differentiator for brands, and the genie is never going back into the bottle.”
2020’s effect on personal values
Times of crisis often cause people to reflect on their values, and 2020 was no exception. In a year marked by a global health crisis, historic job losses, high-stake political elections and social unrest, some 35% of the people surveyed reported a change in their personal values over the past year. Conversely, 36% reported no changes in personal values, and 22% reported that their values were affirmed last year.
Younger people and people of color were most likely to report a shift in values in 2020. Older generations — the Silent Generation (1928-1945) and the baby boomers — and whites were less likely to experience personal value change and reported the highest levels of value reaffirmation.
Interestingly, those who experienced any kind of employment change in 2020 were more likely to experience a change in personal values.
“We have robust evidence that people who underwent an employment change — primary job loss or furlough, significant cut in pay or hours or shift to permanently or mostly working from home — were more likely to report that 2020 changed their personal values. This holds after controlling for income, education, age and ethnicity,” Bunderson said.
Brand values and purchasing behaviors
One of the most significant findings was that 55% of respondents reported paying more attention to brand values today than they did one year ago. Generations X and Y were generally more values-conscious than other generations. The Silent Generation and Gen Z reported the lowest levels of value consciousness (38% and 39%, respectively), however the small sample size may have influenced the results for Gen Z.
“People who shifted to working at home were especially likely to report that they pay more attention to brand values now (73%). Other types of employment change did not appear to have the same effect,” Bunderson said.
Americans are not just paying attention to brand values, they are incorporating values into their buying decisions.
“To me, the most unexpected finding was the degree to which people will vote with their wallets,” Wolfersberger said. “I expected a small effect here, but the findings show that 82% would pay more for a value-aligned brand, 43% of people would pay twice as much and 31% would buy the value-aligned brand at any price.
When shopping in stores, 46% of participants reported doing research on brand values. A slightly higher percent of respondents — 49% — look into brand values before making online purchases. In both scenarios, Gen X and Y were most likely to study brand values.
Altogether, 60% of respondents reported that they “have made a purchase from a brand because they have values I believe in.” Likewise, 53% of the respondents said there are brands they would never purchase because of their stance on an issue.
“Across generations, Gens X, Y and Z show affinity to brand values in their purchasing,” the authors write.
Given the potentially high cost of negative public relations, some brands may be inclined to stay silent on issues. However, the majority of respondents — including 63% of Gen X and 59% of Gen Y — believe that companies should take a stand on issues, even if the respondents disagree with that stand. Gen Z was the most likely to punish a company for silence on an issue.
What causes matter most?
According to the authors, there was reasonable agreement between generations other than Gen Z about their top 5 brand values, which included “affordable and a good value,” “good customer service” and “honest and authentic.”
Gen Z had more unique values in their top 5, preferring “friendship and family,” “treats their employees well” and “fun and comfortable.”
There were more differences across generations when it came to ranking causes. “Fighting poverty, hunger and homelessness” and “curing or treatment of a disease” were more important for older generations.
Generations X, Y, and Z showed stronger preferences for “ending racism,” “gender equality” and “LGBTQ equality” than the two older generations, particularly baby boomers — who showed the weakest preferences for these categories but did show the highest preference for helping “people with disabilities” (35%).
Seemingly paradoxically, Gen Z showed higher preferences for “military and veterans” (25%) than either Gen X or Y, which is interesting because they ranked “patriotic” particularly low (8%) on the brand values ranking.
“Our researcher shows that consumers care about brand values more than ever. It’s not enough to simply make a good product, today’s brands need to do right by the customer, their employees and the community,” Bunderson said.
“Those that do will have the most loyal customers,” Wolfersberger added.
Nick Johnson, a PhD student at Olin, and Chris Copeland, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Vrity, also contributed to this research and white paper.
Here, Lael Bialek, MBA ’20, shares her thoughts on Tucker’s talk:
Philosophy on leadership
Michelle Tucker attributed her professional achievement to
her choice to follow her passion and be her authentic self. The president and CEO role at the United Way of St. Louis
was not a position Tucker pursued. Rather, her reputation as a leader who
genuinely cared about the community and had followed her passion out of the
corporate world made her the standout choice for the job.
Tucker acknowledged that following your passion often
requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. In an effort to contribute
to her community in more impactful ways, Tucker left behind the comforts and
luxuries she had enjoyed at Bank of America for almost 20 years.
She described how she stepped out of her comfort zone to step
forward and lead an organization with a mission she was passionate about.
Taking that step required Tucker to be brave and become comfortable in being
Trajectory of career
Tucker’s commitment to the St. Louis community has been the
driving force in her career. During her time at Bank of America, Tucker worked
to expand and define her roles such that she was in a position to develop and
implement strategies that enabled Bank of America to support the St. Louis
Although Tucker had the opportunity to engage with the community
through her work at Bank of America, she knew her passion, experience and
skills could make a huge difference in a mission-driven nonprofit organization.
Tucker followed her heart to Epworth Children & Family Services. Likewise,
her decision to leave Epworth after two years to lead the United Way of St.
Louis stemmed from her passion for contributing to the community.
Having spent seven years working with nonprofits before
pursuing my MBA, it was incredibly exciting and powerful for me to have the
opportunity to learn from a successful and respected nonprofit leader in the
St. Louis community. Tucker’s story and poise radiated curiosity, tenacity and
courage—characteristics I will strive to emulate as I continue work to develop
and refine my leadership style.
Tucker has only been able to live out her passions through tremendous bravery. She has continually pushed the boundaries of her comfort and put herself in the best possible position to affect positive change. Her courageousness had taken many forms—from working at Bank of American at a time when African-American females in the banking industry were few and far between to stepping away from the luxuries of the corporate world to lead a nonprofit organization.
Tucker understands the value of her intellectual capital and has never let fear keep her from utilizing it in meaningful and impactful ways. Her career is inspirational. I had never considered that acting on your passion could be an act of bravery. Tucker has inspired me not to let my fears and insecurities hold me back. I hope to someday give as much of myself as I can to my community and model courageousness as Tucker does.
Employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new survey by two WashU Olin professors.
And the effects were more substantial when they had written down their purpose statements.
Also, employees of organizations with higher-purpose statements are happier and prouder of their organizations than are employees at workplaces without such a statement, the results show. Again, the effects were stronger when the purpose statement was written—and tied to society, employees and customers, rather than shareholders.
The findings echo the August 2019 announcement by the powerful corporate lobby group of U.S. leaders called the Business Roundtable, focusing the future on purpose. Such evidence of a national shift dovetails nicely with one of Olin’s key strategic pillars: values-based, data driven decision making.
“As human beings, we are wired for purpose—to know why, to seek meaning in the things we do,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”
Bunderson and Anjan Thakor surveyed 1,109 people in May to learn about their commitment to and perceived worth of a personal and organizational higher purpose.
The professors’ curiosity was piqued during a fall 2019 conference they organized on WashU’s campus about personal and organizational higher purpose. Academic researchers, consultants and corporate leaders came together to share findings and experiences.
Strecher noted that workers’ stress levels and dissatisfaction were rising, even as economic conditions were improving. As for the next group entering the workforce, he also mentioned that suicidal ideation had doubled on US college campuses in the past decade. Stretcher stressed the importance of a personal higher purpose in coping with the stresses, noting that someone who does not “repurpose their life” at retirement is 2.4 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than someone who adopts an authentic higher purpose.
Speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, emphasized the importance of organizational higher purpose. Some 65% of people would give up a raise if they could fire their own boss, he said. He also noted that an employee’s boss is more critical to that employee’s health than the family doctor.
“These remarks and other discussions at the conference made us curious to know more,” Bunderson and Thakor say in their report on their survey.
“What does personal higher purpose really do for people? How do individuals perceive the value of personal purpose in their lives? What is the role of an organization’s higher purpose in the lives of its employees? Are there any connections between personal and organizational higher purpose?”
Write it down
The 1,019 individuals they surveyed in May were employed and chosen as representative of the American population’s gender, racial and geographic diversity.
“I was most surprised by the fact that when companies have written statements of higher purpose,” Thakor said, “not only do the employees trust its leaders to make socially responsible decisions, but also better business decisions.”
Bunderson said he was “very surprised at how much more powerful these effects are when the purpose statement is written down. It’s like that old saying that a goal you don’t write down is just a wish.”
Additional findings included:
A majority of respondents had a personal higher purpose, but most had not written it down;
Having a written personal statement of purpose helped people in various ways, including coping with stress and finding happiness;
Curiously, those with a written higher purpose also reported higher levels of anxiety;
The incidence of written statements of higher purpose was higher among organizations than among individuals;
Employees at organizations with higher purpose statements were prouder of working for their organizations and happier than other employees;
Organizational higher purpose statements were more effective when written down and when they emphasized society, customers, employees and stakeholders other than shareholders;
Employees of organizations with higher purpose statements are more likely to have personal statements of higher purpose.
“We aren’t exactly sure why that is the case, but it may be that employees who work for organizations with a higher purpose statement are inspired to develop one for their lives,” Bunderson said. “This may be one way that good work practices can positively impact employees’ personal lives.”
The finding about higher levels of anxiety, he said, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that a sense of duty or stewardship toward something or someone can be both a burden and an important source of meaning.”
Using the survey findings, Bunderson and Thakor have built a personal higher purpose index and an organizational higher purpose index.
“These will enable us to examine how personal and organizational higher purpose and their perceived outcomes change over time,” Bunderson said.
Capitalizing on purpose
Businesses have risen from ruins because of their ability to recognize and capitalize on purpose, Thakor emphasizes in presentations. Those businesses have excelled and grown. But they don’t do it at the expense of making a buck.
Thakor cites a couple of examples of organizational higher purpose in his working paper “Higher Purpose, Incentives and Economic Performance.”
Detroit-based DTE Energy clarifies its higher purpose as being “a force for growth and prosperity.” The company names four pillars through which its social impact is to manifest: people (“improving lives and creating opportunity”), places (“partners with communities for growth”), planet (“leadership toward cleaner energy and environmental stewardship”) and progress (“powering a brighter tomorrow”).
Tree T-PEE, based in Arcadia, Florida, offers water-containment systems for agribusiness. It articulates its higher purpose as helping farmers conserve water and energy in farming.
To explore more about the concept of a higher purpose, you may want to read these blog posts:
Lauren Herring is CEO of IMPACT Group, a global leader in
employee career development. Under her leadership, the company now operates in
more than 77 international locations in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Perumal, MBA ’20, shares her thoughts on Herring’s talk:
Philosophy of leadership
Lauren Herring believes that you should be the CEO of your
own career. As CEO of your own career, you should plan intentionally and
reflect annually, or ever quarterly, about what you want in life. Are you doing
things today that will help you get there? As long as you feel that you are in
the right place at the right time, there is no correct career path.
Ultimately, Lauren stated the importance of being true to
yourself and your personality. There may be traits of other leaders that you
want to emulate, but, at the end of the day, stay true to your brand and
remember that gravitas comes from inside you. It is important to believe in yourself
and your work so that you remember why you are doing what you are doing. Your confidence,
core values and a sense of who you are will be your assets toward success as a leader.
Impact of philosophy
The idea of being the CEO of your own career has permeated
her own path to leadership. Lauren’s goal was never to do what all her peers
were doing but rather to follow the path that was right for her. Her decision
to help the family when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and focus on
her own career later ultimately shifted into her wanting to become more involved
with IMPACT Group. This entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risk has
guided her rise to leadership and her actions as a leader.
Lauren did express that this desire to make the business her
own may have been taken too far. Looking back, she wishes that rather than
feeling the need to be able to prove how much she knows and that she had all
the answers, she would have focused on asking more questions, engaging others
along the way and inviting others’ opinions. From her experience, she shared with
us the importance of making others feel valued, smart and engaged by bringing
them into decisions and asking for their advice.
What I learned and would want to emulate
Lauren advised us to be not just the CEO of our careers but also the CMO of our career. I plan to implement this advice as I work on building my brand, so that I can promote and manage my personal brand while owning who I am. I really admired Lauren’s presence in the room. She was very down-to-earth and relatable. It was easy to see that success had not changed her as a person. She was clearly very true to herself and her core values and passionate about the work she does. I hope that I can carry myself the same way she does—with poise, relatability, and compassion—as a leader.
Pictured at top: Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group