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  • David S Cohen

From Where Does You Company Culture Come?

Culture is a funny thing. How it is defined seems to vary from book to book published on the subject of corporate culture. Central to the debate concerning howto define organizational culture is the tenability of change itself. Some consultants go as far as boldly stating they can help you make "visible culture change in 12 days" while others say changing the culture is nearly impossible. I will leave that for another time.

There is, however, one debate that intrigues me the most. I would like to get your vote and opinion for one of the two positions: should a company's values be determined from inside the firm or should they be defined using an 'outside-in' process?

Position One: Values of a company are 'outside – in' activity. 

The internal value set of employees must be aligned with the customers' values.  We have to have leadership competencies and personal values that our customers values. In other words, to effectively execute our business strategy, we must have a culture that aligns with the culture of those who will be our customers. In short, values and culture need to be 'outside – in' to have a winning culture and a value set upon which the culture is founded.

Position Two: The genesis of a company's values is from inside the organization

The original values of the company are driven and handed down by its founders and, if properly defined and expressed, will be sustained as the correct path for future employees and be handed down from one generation to the next. These values, over time, can and will evolve to meet the needs of the modern organization. Values are firmly held beliefs, which are emotionally charged, resistant to change, and universally applied. The culture of the organization is stable when the employees are aligned with the values; these values ultimately differentiate between right and wrong. They are reflected in the rituals and ceremonies of the company.

As such, the origin of the values is defined from inside the company. When the company has a consistent and established culture, the employees live the values; making their actions predictable to those with whom they interact. 

Please vote for 

  1. Position One (outside in) or

  2. Position Two (from the inside)

If you wish to add to the discussion, please take a moment and explain your thinking behind your vote. I thank you in advance for your participation in this discussion.


David has 30 years of experience helping companies to be more values focused. He has worked with leaders aligning strategy to values. By helping companies focus on desired value-behaviours he enables firms to become more talent-driven. David’s book Inside the Box details how companies have risen and fallen based on putting values before profits. You can download, for free, the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the book by following this link