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Posted on May 1, 2015

How to Identify Unique Values for Your Organization

How to Identify Unique Values for Your Organization

Creating a sustainable competitive advantage for your business requires a foundation of values that are unique, relevant, and sustainable. This is what I call the Values Test.

  • Differentiating Values must be unique to your organization. They describe the business in a way that competitors can’t say or do the same.
  • Differentiating Values must be relevant to your key customers. They make a difference in a meaningful way for all your stakeholders.
  • Differentiating Values must be sustainable for years to come. They are something your organization can easily deliver in a consistent manner for the next 3 to 5 years, and ideally longer.

In this article, I’ll address the first part – identifying values that are unique to your organization. It begins with obtaining a 360o perspective.

The Need for 360o Insight

Beach-ballIn my presentations on values, I often hold up a large beach ball and ask the audience “How many colors are on this ball?” The answer is six.

But when I hold the ball vertically by the top and bottom axes, I then ask the question, “How many colors can I see at any one time?” The answer is only three.

The point of this exercise is to show the need for obtaining 360o insight into your organization. We all have blind spots – those areas we don’t have full visibility.

Just as I can’t see all six colors on the ball at one time, you also have blind spots when looking at your organization. So you need to engage the help of others.

There are three sources of insight to obtain a complete picture.

3 Sources of Insight

To obtain a 360o perspective of your business, I recommend using the following three sources.

  1. Your Team. The first step is to select 5 to 8 members from your organization that have a deep understanding of the business. They need to be able to easily articulate the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. It might even be helpful to start with a simple SWOT analysis. Then conduct a group discussion to identify a list of strengths and weaknesses, followed by one-on-one interviews to dig deeper into what each one sees are the real strengths of the business.
  2. Customers. Talking with customers is always a fascinating journey of uncovering truths about your business. It’s amazing how quickly and easily customers can pinpoint their view of your business, with just one word or a single sentence. It’s because they possess perspective, and from the best seat in the marketplace. Note that you don’t need to talk to that many. Ideally 8 to 12 one-on-one customer interviews will provide all the insight you’ll need.
  3. Marketplace. Regardless of how you might see your organization, it’s critical to understand how your business compares to the competition, both direct and indirect. How do your competitors define themselves? What do they claim as their areas of strength? What’s real and what’s fluff? What are their unique qualities?

Note: if you are just starting out and don’t have much of a team yet, then engage a few people who already know you, and know what you can deliver. And if you don’t have any (or many) customers yet, then identify a handful of ideal customers (your primary target market) and find out how they view your key competitors. What you’re looking for are gaps in the marketplace that map to your area of strengths.

Identifying Unique Values

With all of this insight in hand, you can now easily identify your unique values. My suggestion is to start with the 423 values highlighted in my ebook and identify as many values as possible that support your organization’s strengths. Of course, if there is a value not listed here that you feel perfectly describes your organization, then by all means include it.

At this point, most people end up with a short list of 60 to 100 values, which is a solid start.

The next step is to refine this list as you determine which of these values are relevant to your key customers. I’ll cover this step in another post.


For a more detailed assessment on selecting unique values for your organization, download my free ebook Developing Your Differentiating Values for Business.