The aim of this paper is to provide an empirical contextual picture of what is truly valued most in different public and private sector organizations. Through a series of qualitative in-depth interviews (n = 38), that were a follow-up to an earlier survey study among public and private sector managers (n = 382), a number of crucial organizational values were presented to and discussed with a selection of top managers from a variety of Dutch public and private sector organizations. The decision-making context from the interviews provides insight into why, when, how and to what extent specific values are important. A number of unexpected differences and similarities between organizations with a different sectoral status emerge from the data, which shed new light on existing predispositions on value preferences in government and business conduct. © 2010 The Author. Public Administration © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.