Return on Values Project: OVERVIEW

Is there a link between culture and profit in small and mid-size businesses?

When we launched the Return on Values Project, this was the question that drove our research. Does a strong, positive culture just make for a warmer place to work, or can you actually see a measurable difference in the company’s balance sheet?

This question had never before been thoroughly addressed in research about privately-held companies. In larger, publicly-traded companies, the research is becoming more clear. Raj Sisodia and colleagues, in their book Firms of Endearment, demonstrated that “purpose driven” companies (those with a strong sense of purpose or values, people-centered cultures, etc.) outperform the S&P 500 by 14 times and the Good to Great companies by 6 times over 15 years.

Those are results to which business leaders can aspire. But how does that connection between purpose and profit really work? How could we go about replicating it?

One of the companies we studied as part of the Return on Values project has an answer. They call it the Circle of Growth. It says if you truly take care of employees, they will take care of customers. And happy customers become loyal customers, which leads to profit and sustainable growth.

In the hundreds of interviews we’ve done as part of the Return on Values Project and elsewhere, we’ve found this model to hold true.

High profit/high culture companies measure the difference in customer loyalty, innovation, cost reduction, employee retention and engagement, profit, and even purchase price when sold or purchasing power when acquiring other small businesses.

The connection is tangible and the results are real. Our research also indicates that high profit/high culture companies do six things really well:

  • Develop Exceptional Leaders: Your people are your company. Develop leaders who are caring, credible, and expert at building your culture.
  • Invest in Community: Strong community roots keep people engaged. Invest locally to see an impact – inside and outside of your company.
  • Build Strong Relationships: Loyalty to products is good, but loyalty to people is even better. Create strong relationships with customers, clients, vendors, and your team.
  • Create a Great Culture: Culture is a compass for the organization. Use culture and core values to guide people-practices and decision making.
  • Inspire Passion: Want the most from your team? Make them passionate about what they do. Inspire, engage, celebrate, succeed.
  • Drive Long-Term Profit: Success is impossible without a sound business model, a healthy balance sheet, and steady gross margins. Find strategies to grow your business.

On this website, you’ll find new ideas for how your company can leverage the link between culture and profit. Click any of the links above to find videos, articles and discussion guides that will help you and your senior leadership team grow your company culture and profit.

Resources for Business School Faculty

Business school faculty are invited to use content from this website in the classroom. We hope our videos and related materials are a valuable resource for the education of a new generation of exceptional leaders.

Additional academic resources based on the Return on Values Project, such as case studies and dissertations, exist and may be available for your use. Please contact for more information.

Research for the Return on Values Project is led by the faculty of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University, in partnership with faculty from the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan.