9.7 Connecting Organizational Stakeholders: Corporate Values and Business Practices

Aim of the project This project will examine how organizations can be stimulated to engage with programmes of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and invest in sustainable cooperation with the comm

Project info

Project consists of following studies
Aim of the project This project will examine how organizations can be stimulated to engage with programmes of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and invest in sustainable cooperation with the communities in which they are embedded. It will establish whether the common tendency in discussions about CSR to appeal to abstract formulations of moral principles and values has backlash effects. And if so, might it be more effective to target concrete practices to connect different stakeholders and -eventually- their core value domains to achieve sustainable cooperation?
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Vrije Universiteit
  • Sociology
  • Employers’ organizations
  • HR managers
  • Managers
  • Organisation science
  • Sociology
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • Feedback Cycles
  • Reconciling stakeholder interests
Theoretical background
Despite the many discussions about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the many organizational activities that supposedly express CSR, many organizations still are criticized for failing to genuinely take into account the interests of important stakeholders, such as customers, employees, local communities, and future generations. In those organizations, management, but also individual employees, are accused of being immoral or at least as lacking important values and are said to overemphasize profit motives. Appeals to change the policy of such firms are therefore often couched in moral terms that do not refer to economic consequences. From this perspective, legislation, external supervision, and public outrage communicated in the media, are all seen as valid attempts to question the values endorsed by these organizations and the people working there and to stimulate the organization in question to engage with CSR. The implicit assumption is that appeals to the values of CSR will prompt organisations to change their standard business practices. The general tendency to motivate people to change their day-to-day behaviours by trying to modify their global attitudes and dispositions may be widespread but is not backed up by empirical research. Force of habit, social norms, and practical obstacles are only a few factors standing in the way of translating abstract principles into concrete behaviors. Further, we know from empirical research that criticizing people for the moral values they endorse is extremely threatening and tends to raise defensive responses instead of instigating change. This project will examine whether a more fruitful approach might be to target the behavioral change that is desired at a very concrete level, and then assess whether over time this raises processes of positive self-perception (I am a good person) and self-efficacy (I can do this) that makes the actors in question more willing to reconsider how their behavior relates to their relevant values. We will compare the effectiveness of top-down (moving from abstractly formulated values to their realization in concrete practices) vs. bottom-up (from concrete practices to values) change attempts, and assess the impact of individual and organizational self-views and efficacy ratings.
Research design
Organizational statements about values and the importance of CSR (in written text specifying important values, on websites, in mission statements and annual reports) will be compared with the concrete practices (in onboarding programs, HR performance evaluation and promotion criteria, mentoring and leadership programs). We examine how different (internal and external) stakeholders perceive these practices as communicating the values the organization subscribes to. For the normative discussion about CSR, the results of the empirical analysis will be used to compare the relevance of virtue-ethical approaches, in which dispositions and habituation play an import role, with more top-down deontological or consequentialist approaches. We will also collect interview/survey data among different groups of employees (top management, senior employees, incoming hires) in organizations, and conduct experimental simulations of behavioral change trajectories using psychophysiological measures of employees and managers to indicate negative threat vs positive challenge, as a result of addressing abstract values vs concrete behaviors. We will compare whether the same mechanisms occur for positive (moral elevation) vs. negative (slippery slope) behavioral change.
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