Values Spheres

Differentiation and Values

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership


I spend a fair amount of time discussing culture with executives and entrepreneurs. In my view, values underpin the culture in an organization. They are the foundation of decision making. And the decisions that get made define the culture of the organization. Yet many (most?) organizations do not pay significant attention to developing values that differentiate them from the pack.

According to a recent Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, most corporations’ values incorporate similar words and ideas. They reported that 90% of corporations reference ethical behavior or use the word “integrity.” And 88% mention commitment to customers while 76% cite teamwork and trust. Buzzwords! Other such buzzwords include Authentic, Fun, Innovation,

Values Spheres

Passion, Caring and Customer-oriented.

Entry Level:

The common “value words” are truly entry level. And they provide no differentiation from the rest of your industry. Years ago, one of my mentors remarked that my business cards were actually working against me. As he saw it, the reason is that I had put the phrase “Trusted Advisor” in a prominent position on the card. He said to me, “If you have to tell me that you are a trusted advisor, then you aren’t.” The same is true for those characteristics or values stated above that are so common. In other words, your value statements must be distinctive and speak to uncommon values you hold. If you have to tell me you are ethical, transparent, customer-oriented, then history tells me you probably aren’t any of those things.


What Fundamental Organizing Principles (or you may think of them as CORE values) are the foundation for your culture? One company for whom I worked believed in “People First, Products and Profits Will Follow.” Another company with which I’m familiar makes the bold statement that they put “Employees First.” That is certainly contrary to the conventional “customer first.” They have created a climate where they take good care of their employees knowing full well that the employees will, in turn, take good care of their customers. The leader of this organization noted that, “The way we treat our people is the way our people will treat our customers.” That is a distinction that is well received.

Customer Experience:

The purpose of defining distinctive FOPs is to provide guidance for decision making within the organization. The image above is meant to depict the concept that from a few (1, 2 or 3) FOPs come many values. From those values come many beliefs. From those beliefs the organization will make decisions and take actions. And from the actions taken, the organization will get results. Hopefully, those results are the expected results. I am assuming that whether your customer is internal or external, the goal is to have a rich customer experience. My hypothesis is that for the customer to have a great experience, your organization must have solid, well-thought-out FOPs and Values. That will create the culture necessary for engaged employees, who will in turn take care of your customers.


Once again research shows that there is much more to establishing statements of organizational value than meets the eye. Since “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch” (Drucker), and culture is determined by lived values, then values are the foundation for success. I believe an organization can and should use values to inform all stakeholders about why the organization does what it does. To use Simon Sinek’s model, people buy why you do what you do, not what you do or how you do it.

What have you done to explore the real values of your organization? What are you doing to use those values to differentiate yourself from the competition?

Related posts:

Grasping at Smoke

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Leadership and Engagement

A Bit More on the FOPs