Your Company Culture is Who You Hire, Fire, and Promote

Use the Performance-Values Matrix to build an Outstanding Culture

Dr. Cameron Sepah
11 min readMar 3, 2017


The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.

Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility

Every time I walk into a new company I’m advising, I invariably encounter a set of noble values prominently displayed on the walls. The first thing I’ve trained myself to do is to not take them as gospel, and instead carefully observe how people really behave, which will tell me the actual values I need to know.

It’s not that most companies are disingenuous about the values they espouse. One of Enron’s “aspirational values” was integrity, which may have genuinely expressed who they wanted to be at the beginning. But over time, this proclaimed value didn’t reflect their “practiced values” which were revealed when they committed fraud.

The gap between aspirational and practiced values is diagnostic of how much your company’s culture needs to improve. The actions you take to bridge the gap is prognostic of whether it will.

Why Behaviors Persist (Do As I Do, Not As I Say)

Why does a gap usually exist between a company’s aspirational and practiced values? You would think that to alleviate cognitive dissonance, most employees would feel an inherent need to practice what they preach — or are preached at to do. But to truly close the gap, you have to attack the problem at its root: The issue is that aspirational values almost always come from, and must be rectified at, the top.

Though most employees care what leadership thinks of them, they are actually quite astute at paying attention to what leadership does, not what they say.

According to the theory of behaviorism, no behavior will persist long term unless it is being perpetuated by either a positive reinforcer (providing a reward, such as a promotion or…



Dr. Cameron Sepah

CEO, Maximus. Med School Professor. Executive Psychologist to CEOs & VCs.