How Differentiated Company Values Can Delight and Attract Top Talent

In my work as a Culture Doctor, I do a lot of projects where we’re looking to unearth the “true core values” of an organization. I ask questions like, “Why might an organization engage in such work?, Why look deep within and find out what the team thinks are your unique differentiators?” Well, the reasons for engaging in this work are many, ranging from the philosophical to the practical. 

The first client who had me do a project had a very pragmatic reason; they had a lot of hiring to do and they wanted to get their story straight. They’d previously tried a surface level survey to find out what made them special, but that just yielded some cliche sound bites around “we’re like a family” and “work hard, play hard,” which didn’t paint a very clear picture—and, besides, there are a lot of dysfunctional families out there!

They wanted to go deeper and paint a specific, differentiated picture of what behaviors had led to their success to date. They’d recently grown from 100 to 200 people and had way more dramatic revenue growth numbers, so there were clearly some behavioral differentiators in action. They were doing something right—so why not reveal it!

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “That’s all well and good for them, but we’re barely growing. If we were to reveal our secret sauce, that recipe for disaster might not be all that appetizing!” 

Let me posit that revealing what your team sees as differentiators is still a worthwhile exercise, given:

(1) You’re still in business, so you may be doing better than you think!

(2) Information is power, and the results may shine a light on a couple of areas that need investment!

Back to my client, though. You might be wondering how one goes about “revealing” the company values that are actually already operating in an organization. Well, there are a few dimensions to an analysis like this, but we’ll focus on one powerful central analysis here that will hopefully make you unafraid to engage in this work.

What if you identified a number of your trusted employees (e.g. your executive team and a group of culture champions representing a diverse array of demographics, tenures, locations, departments, levels, etc.) and introduced them to a respected competency model that scientifically pulls apart all the behavioral parts required for business success into discrete observable behaviors, like this one

Further, what if you then asked each to anonymously rank which of the competencies they saw in action across the entire organization in order of most to least—then compiled the results? 

Might that not give you invaluable insights into where your behavioral strengths lie?

Some leaders may be afraid of performing an analysis like this, but my words of comfort are that in a ranking exercise like this, there will be at least 5 top strengths that you can start building values around. You may not be as “world-class” as you might like at these 5 things. They may not be the 5 things that you personally would have liked to have ranked highest. But there will be 5 things, of that you can be sure! And, as you build an employer value proposition, an employer brand, or company values, and you start with these 5 things, you may be building on something very powerful, the truth!

I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar sponsored by Lever and the attendees were kind enough to share some fascinating responses to the origins of their organization’s values.


  • 27% understood the values were developed by the CEO/Founder
  • 32% understood the values were developed by the Executive Team
  • 18% understood the values were developed by a process that included execs and the broader team
  • 17% were living with values that predated their tenure and weren’t sure of their origins


I’d wager that the companies with an inclusive process that gathers perspectives from employees beyond the executive suite, especially if they follow a disciplined data-driven process, will have significant recruiting advantages like:


  • The company values will be believed by hiring managers who are trying to sell the experience
  • Employees will feel more comfortable referring their talented friends to an organization that’s self-aware
  • Candidates will be more likely to see behaviors in action during the interview process
  • The right candidates who are attracted to the right values on the careers page will have a greater chance of lingering if they’re being sold the experience they’ll actually have

You may be wondering, “What happened to that client?” Well, they’re an industry leader, their global headcount has tripled, and they have a very strong employer brand. The truth shall set you free!


About the Author:

ValuesCulture was founded in 2016 by Peter Phelan, after a twenty-year in-house career in global People & Culture leadership including Chief People Officer roles at leading global tech companies. To date (2021) ValuesCulture has had the honor of partnering with 60+ organizations seeking to optimize their organizational cultures.