Why “Things That Matter” really do matter: Part 2: What We’re Doing

Things That Matter” is the foundation of our Value Management approach.

But it seems obvious what it means, and even more obvious that the Things That Matter are what everything we do should be centered on. So, what more is there to say? What does this add that people aren’t already doing? What are the big insights here?

This series answers these questions – and many others – to show precisely how and why the Things That Matter really do matter, and so let’s continue with what we’re currently doing.

What we’re currently doing with the Things That Matter

Let’s start by considering the more objective Things That Matter, as that’s generally where we’re on more familiar ground.

These are the sorts of things that readily go in contracts, and where there’s hard data, traditional KPIs, and managed risks.

However, even then, because organizations are typically structured vertically, there are often struggles where these Things That Matter cross boundaries.

They can fall between the cracks when it comes to ownership and responsibility, and that’s often reinforced by systems, with data and information often dispersed or even ring-fenced.

The subjectivity challenge

The subjective Things That Matter then pose further challenges, because – beyond the same cross-boundary issues as with objective Things That Matter – they don’t have a natural home in contracts, KPIs, and so on.

At best, they therefore only feature in these places ineffectively, and that’s especially true when it comes to measurement.

Subjective Things That Matter are also the ones most likely to be broad or vague – for lack of a better word, “messy” – when, in general, people (understandably) prefer to deal with things they can more readily understand and bring under control, and more easily measure and resolve.

Now, for the most part, the importance of these subjective Things That Matter is recognized, and when you look at the state of play, people are trying to do something with them.

We see that in things like corporate values, mission statements, behavioural charters and so on.

We also see it in things like relationship workshops, behavioral training and capability development, all of which increasingly cover more subjective and intangible areas.

If we really stopped to think about it, though, the fact that we’re dispersing these Things That Matter into different categories and places – purpose over here, processes over there, values somewhere else, etc – might sow some seeds of doubt as to how well all this is working.

After all, with focus so fragmented, how are people supposed to quickly and easily understand, consider and weigh-up all the factors involved in guiding their priorities, decisions and actions?

Assumptions vs reality

However, unless people are specifically asked, they generally tend to assume that these things are mostly in hand. They think they know what the Things That Matter are; so do their colleagues, their stakeholders and partners; and they assume they’re what everyone’s focused on.

But, when you ask some questions, the reality is usually very different.

Let’s try a thought experiment:

  • Think of a particular relationship, and ask yourself what the Things That Matter are to your organization, and then which are the most important – you may be surprised how hard that is.
  • Next, ask yourself if you know what the top Things That Matter are to the other party in that relationship – that’s likely even harder
  • And so far, this is all just you: how confident are you that everyone else in the relationship would give the same answers as you?

Indeed, on this last question, what we usually find is at best unclear and varied answers; at worst, contradictory ones.

So, people usually don’t clearly know what the Things That Matter are, and they’re not really aligned on them.

This inevitably leads to mis-assumptions, misunderstandings, misalignment and missed opportunities, and all of this is of course especially true in relationships: not only do these issues affect each party, but also – and even more so – the overlap between them.

A really good example we came across was a supplier delivering early to their customer, exceeding the agreed KPI and so assuming the customer would be delighted.. only to be horrified at contract renewal they were in danger of being dropped! Why?

Because the customer’s goods-in area was continually clogged-up and they’d had to fork out for extra storage: a classic case of misassumption, and nearly a lost opportunity for future business… and all because the Things That Matter hadn’t been clarified and aligned!

But how have we got here…? And where are we heading…?

That’s what we’ll look at in Part 3.