What Values Drive Your Company?

TPG Strategic Planning Building Blocks: ValuesCompas-Aaron Burden via Unsplash

Let’s play Fill-in-the-Blank. Think about how you see the work your company does, the culture throughout the company, how people behave toward one another and toward customers, and the practices and policies that are emphasized throughout the company.

Now fill in the blanks:

We conduct our business with _______________(noun)______.

We are _______(adjective)______in the conduct of our business.

The terms you used to fill in those blanks – and all that’s packed into what you mean by those terms – are a step toward understanding and articulating your company’s Values.

We all have individual values, and mine may or may not be the same as yours. A company’s Values are a clear statement that says, “This is who we are, this is what we stand for, and this is what we’re all about – as a company.”

Values underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. Values are the foundation of how we go about our work. We hire and fire, at least in part, based on our company’s Values.

In TPG’s work with companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes, we find it to be powerful when entities articulate their Values. We see it as one of the cornerstones of Strategic Planning. When the people who lead a company or organization stretch themselves to define and agree on what’s most important – what’s core – to how they want to be, then their alignment as they move into prioritizing strategies is profound.

“Regardless of what it’s called, every organization needs to have a set of beliefs that inform everything it does. And I mean everything. What accounts you pitch. The people you hire and fire. The kind of work you do. The way you decorate your offices. The look of your letterhead. And not least, the language that you use to express who and what you are.” – Peter Coughter, The Art of the Pitch

Your company’s Values:

  • Guide you in making decisions
  • Help explain why you do business the way you do
  • Govern relationships
  • Guide business processes
  • Inform you on how to reward
  • Underpin the whole organization

A list of “Our Values” posted on a wall doesn’t mean much if they’re not embraced and internalized by the whole organization. When you see a company’s employees demonstrating and living the values in all their behaviors and interactions; when you see policies and practices that affirm and support the values; when customers and clients can name the values just by how they experience the company – that’s when you’ve got a Values-Driven Company.

From one-on-one interactions within and outside the company, to policies and practices at every level, a company’s Values are on display. What are your company Values?

Check out our TPG Companies Values — and share your own in the comments. I’d be glad to see them.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden via Unsplash.

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2018 Cardinal & Gold Gala – A most successful event!


2018 Cardinal & Gold Gala.

In a recent blog post I shared about my opportunity to be a part of the ISU Alumni 2018 Cardinal & Gold Gala. Here are some exciting photos from the event along with wildly fun photo booth images.

Lori and I were honored to have Co-chaired the Gala on February 9th. It was an evening of great community and good conversations. President Wintersteen gave an inspiring keynote address. Dan Winters of WHO-TV was a fabulous Emcee and Mike Curran, the Auctioneer, was very entertaining. Thank you to the staff who worked tirelessly to make this happen. And thank you to the generous sponsors and attendees for making it a wonderfully successful night.

This year the Gala raised nearly $100,000 for outreach and scholarships. The Alumni Office shared this, “With a record 657 registered attendees, many of whom were attending for the first time, this was the Alumni Association’s most successful Gala ever!”

It was an incredible and humbling opportunity to support the Alumni Association in their mission to raise funds for the Cardinal & Gold Scholarship for first-generation students along with other programs and services they work hard for. Along with many others, Lori and I share in the passions of the Alumni Association to transform and grow* our future Cyclones.

For more information on how you can support the ISUAA in its endeavors, please consider watching the event video presentation which details the programs and services supported by the Gala. What a privilege for us Cyclones to help champion the growth of our future generations!

*Transform, Perform, and Grow are the mainstay themes of TPG Companies – so this event is a perfect fit for us!

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Let’s Celebrate: You’re Invited!


This year Lori and I have the honor of co-chairing the ISU Alumi Association Cardinal & Gold Gala with Harvey (’70 ’73) and Marcia (’73) Freese.  We cordially invite you to celebrate with us on February 9th. It is sure to be an evening of excitement with nearly 600 of our fellow Cyclones.  Tickets are going fast! Please register by clicking here.

Like many Iowans, my family and I are Cyclones. My wife, Lori (’86) and I (’87) both graduated from ISU. Our son, Carl, played football at and graduated from ISU (’12 ’14) as well. Recently our son, Jake, was accepted into ISU to pursue a Masters of Systems Engineering (’19). We are fans and supporters of this great institution as well as lifetime members of the Alumni Association.

The Guiding Principles of the Alumni Association are the same principles that have guided me both personally and professionally—innovation, collaboration, building community, and passion to name a few. It has always been my passion to assist businesses, corporations and investors (for-profit, public and charitable sectors) including ISU entities, to Transform, Perform and Grow. Much like the Alumni Association, we aim to help people and organizations who are changing the world, achieve what matters most.

To make their mission, vision and principles a reality,  the Association works very hard to build the ISU community and connect alumni, students and friends of ISU with each other. The ISU Alumni Gala is the annual celebration that raises “funds for critical student and alumni outreach programming that inspires future generations of Cyclones, as well as vital scholarships for first-time generation college students.” Something very near and dear to our hearts given that Lori is a first generation college student.

Help us achieve what matters most in our ISU community—-building, transforming and growing our future generation Cyclones. You’re invited to come and celebrate!




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What Matters Most?

For the past 13-plus years, Stanford MBA applicants have had to answer the essay question “What matters most to you and why?” The question tends to send applicants into a frenzy. How does one answer this simple yet challenging prompt?bryan-minear-325881

The fact this question continues to be asked year after year speaks to its relevance in drawing out self-awareness and reflection.

In our personal lives, identifying what matters most to us and why is usually instinctive and clear. Many of us would say that family is what matters most, especially during the holiday season. When you get a call that someone you care about has suddenly been taken ill or worse, you don’t doubt what matters most. When the tornado siren sounds or flames shoot up in the kitchen, what matters most becomes crystal clear.

In the realm of business, however, what matters most and why isn’t necessarily arrived at by instinct; it may not always be crystal clear. And if a business knows WHAT matters most, the WHY may not always be clear.

TPG Companies has been saying it for years: we work with you on what matters most… It’s in our email name and it’s even our web address. We help companies reflect on and define what matters most, so they can do what Simon Sinek suggests: start with the Why. One cannot start with the Why, if one does not know what matters most.

It’s not unusual for entities we work with to discover that what truly matters most – and why – is different than they first assumed. Sometimes the issue an entity identified turns out to be a symptom of something else, i.e. what actually matters most, that needs attention.

One company’s owners came to TPG saying what mattered most to them was increasing sales.

Sure, we said, we can help with that.

As we worked together, we found that what really mattered most was getting the right people into the right positions in the company and tightening up their processes and practices – from production and distribution to employee time management and customer relations.

Addressing those “non-sales” issues first resulted in saved money for the company and greater efficiency in operations – and (surprise!) they started seeing better sales results as well. Then when we did turn our focus to boosting sales, the results were that much better. Sorting out the foundational issues and getting to the bottom of “why” first helped the company move the needle even further than they’d hoped.

Another company – a nonprofit organization – knew they needed fundraising assistance. But what really mattered most, and would ultimately impact their fundraising, was the need for an actionable strategic plan and fundraising plan – backed by their true Why’s. The Why’s that people at all levels of the organization could agree on and get excited about. We were glad to be able to work with them to successfully move through all these steps.

What matters most to you, your business and why? The answer may be obvious to you. It also may not be.

Whether you’re applying to the MBA program at Stanford, or wondering what path your business should take, when  you understand and acknowledge what matters most to you and why, it helps form the foundation of your business and/or personal life.

It’s a question worth considering whether the answer is already crystal clear or comes completely unexpected.

During this holiday season, you know what matters most, namely, spending time with family and friends. But as 2017 ends and the New Year begins, we at TPG Companies encourage you to take the time to reflect on what matters most and why in your business, in 2018 and beyond.


Photo credit: Bryan Minear

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4 Value-Adds When Leading & Facilitating Planning

Recently a friend asked me what sets TPG Companies apart in how we lead and facilitate strategy and planning processes – because we get so much positive feedback.

My friend is involved with many companies and thus sits in on a lot of planning christian-fregnan-339342meetings. She said, “Some people do a decent job, but more often than not I’m displeased and frustrated with the person facilitating and leading. They don’t engage the management team or board well, it’s a full 2 days, and I’m just wrung out and exhausted by the end of it.”


She wondered: what does TPG do differently?

I don’t claim to know everything about how others do it, but I do know what people tend to say to TPG when we lead or facilitate planning processes (i.e., strategic planning, business planning, project planning, implementation/execution planning).

We get an abundance of feedback, but these four comments come up time and again:

  1. “You really do your homework to get to know who we are!”
    That we do. We’ve found we can help entities so much more when we know them (and the people participating in planning) beyond a surface level – as individuals, as companies/organizations. From the start, we dig deep to learn who they are, where they’re coming from, and what their objectives for planning are. We’ve learned to ask lots of questions before and during planning, and to “coach it out of them” as needed. Always seeking to understand and achieve what would be of real value.Knowing the organization and the individuals well helps us design a process that works for them. Not every tool, technique, or method is right for every client or situation. Even once we’ve laid out a road map, we stay flexible and aware during the process to revise on the fly, if that is what’s needed.

    I suppose we could do what some may call “veneer consulting,” a mile wide and an inch deep. However, we’ve found doing our homework ensures we can go with our clients wherever they need to go – like our what matters most motto says.

  2. “You clearly live this stuff every day.”
    It’s not just that we “live this stuff” as strategists, facilitators and advisors for others – we literally live our strategy and planning methods and tools in our own TPG Companies and with other companies that are venture partners or who we work with. We have plenty of opportunities to see the back end of what happens when you strategize, plan, and implement effectively (or when you don’t…).We learn from all those opportunities – in fact we’re voracious learners – and continuously apply new learning as we work with others. It seems to make a difference.
  3. “You tune in to where we’re at and who we are, individually and collectively.”
    To lead a strong and positive planning process, we believe you have to operate and think on many levels at once: individual, group, organization, content, process and even beyond the organization. When you prepare, navigate, and facilitate on all those levels, it’s possible to create strategy and plans that can live and breathe, and bring results.We sometimes hear about consultants and facilitators who come in, go through their pre-defined steps, maybe do a SWOT exercise, and strictly follow their prescribed program – the same way, every time. That can work for some. What we hear, though, is, “It didn’t engage us because they were focused on their process and their stuff rather than us.”

    Literally, we ask ourselves, What would be engaging for these people? What’s the experience they’re having? What will help them think clearer? Communicate more effectively? Make better decisions? What’s working? What has room for improvement, and how can we help with that?

    The answers to these questions impact everything – from the amount of natural light in the room, to who sits by whom, to which topics are emphasized (and in which order), and how we navigate the “dance” of the topics and agenda.

  1. “Your diverse experience pays dividends to us.”
    People notice our depth and breadth of experience and expertise, because we put it to good use when we’re doing planning and other work with clients and partners. We’ve worked in – or have team members who have worked in – so many different professions, industries, and sectors, that we have a lot to draw on. We tailor the approach to each new entity we work with, according to what fits best. We’re seldom starting from scratch, yet each solution is unique to each entity.
    …. A technique we found useful with a financial services company might also be a great fit for multicultural advocacy group.
    …. A manufacturers’ association could be at just the right place to make good use of a tool or method originally developed for a health care company.
    …. A model that made perfect sense with an education-focused nonprofit may – or may not – also make perfect sense with a multinational agribusiness entity.

Every company and organization is distinct in its own right. Still, similar patterns, challenges, and opportunities arise daily even in vastly different organizations. Recognizing the patterns, without losing sight of the distinctions, is core to the value TPG brings to our clients and partners.

Are you getting that level of value in your planning?

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Everything Flows. Everything Changes. Panta Rei.

By Mary Sundet Jones

Panta rei 1Some things are so core to who you are and what you do that it can take time to be able to see them clearly. An astute outside observer’s off-hand comment, or, in this case, a cheap travel souvenir, can shed unexpected light. And suddenly you know yourself and your work just a little better.

My husband picked up this little magnet in Rome this summer, because it struck him that Panta Rei is a core principle for TPG Companies.

Huh. He’s right.

The term is attributed to Heraclitus, the 6th-century B.C. Greek philosopher. Panta Rei (sometimes written “rhei”) reflects Heraclitus’ thought that “no one ever steps in the same river twice.” That is – the river continues to be a river, but it is constantly changing.

What’s the TPG connection? The more I consider it, the more I realize Panta Rei runs in and through much of how we think and how we work with clients and partners. A few examples:

  • We see owners and executives facing new and changing circumstances in this VUCA world, and believe that a VUCA Prime mindset can propel success.
    Everything Flows. Everything Changes. Panta Rei.
  • We approach each company and organization – and each person within them – as entities that have changed, are in the midst of change, and will continue to change – to flow. Where they’ve come from and where they are now are important to where they are going. We help them articulate, focus, and direct their change, to achieve results that in turn lay the ground work for more change.
    Everything Flows. Everything Changes. Panta Rei.
  • Our strategic planning approaches understand and account for the fact that your company is different today – and operates in a different environment today – than it did even just a few years ago. And the change will continue, both internally and externally.
    Everything Flows. Everything Changes. Panta Rei.
  • We’re constantly collecting, because we know there’s always new and important thinking out there, that we can incorporate into our own flow. We listen, we read, we collect. Everything changes – and that includes how we do what we do, what we do, and how we talk to you about what you do. Yet the context is the same: making your business better, and addressing what matters most.
    Everything Flows. Everything Changes. Panta Rei.


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Jones-Mary S_160731_2016 color headshot CroppedMary Sundet Jones, TPG Consultant & Project Manager, has built a broad and deep portfolio of experience combining big-picture strategy with the details and logistics of process improvement, team building, program management, administration, and more. She gets energy and inspiration from helping connect clients with approaches and resources that will help them succeed – and – sometimes – from Italian souvenir refrigerator magnets.

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Inspired by Kevin Shikuku

I get inspired by people all the time.Kevin Shikuku

In particular, I get inspired by people who are passionate about improving themselves, their companies and organizations, and the world. It’s what we’re about at TPG Companies, and it’s so exciting to meet others, especially young adults, with that kind of passion. Like Kevin Anungo Shikuku.

A year ago, my Rotary Club was visited by the 2016 Mandela Fellows from multiple African countries who were being hosted by Drake University. I wrote then about my impressive new friend, Evarist Kemsolbaye.

Last month, Drake hosted this year’s Mandela Washington Fellows, and once again I made a connection with an unforgettable young man, Kevin Shikuku. Kevin is from Kenya – a public health officer focused on environmental sanitation and disease control (both communicable and non-communicable diseases). He’s full of ideas, and I won’t be surprised if he makes them happen.

One of Kevin’s big interests is agriculture, so I’m sure Iowa fascinated him. He’s especially passionate about using certain insects to improve life for communities and farmers in western Kenya, while creating agribusiness jobs in the area. One project has to do with producing, packaging, and marketing black soldier flies as an affordable protein source for poultry farmers. Another project involves promoting white flying ants as a sustainable and abundant food source.

Kevin is making things happen – transforming his region and country, and transforming himself in the process. That’s inspiring.


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To Plan for Now, Know Your Vision

Strategic Planning Building Blocks: VisionVision Star

It’s not so hard to plan when you know what you’re planning for. What’s your guiding star?

A Strategic Plan that tangibly moves you toward a compelling – even exciting – future is a Plan unlikely to gather dust on a shelf.

TPG’s strategic planning experiences with hundreds of entities (large and small, corporate and nonprofit, local, national, and international) has us convinced that excellent plans begin with a clear and compelling Vision.

A Vision Statement provides direction and motivation for both daily operations and strategic decisions. You might say it’s a written depiction of a distant star – your constant guiding light.

We tend to resonate with James J. Mapes, in Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind, who says, “A mission statement comes from the head. A vision comes from the heart. Vision is creating an ideal future with a grand purpose. Vision is all about greatness.”

The process of Visioning itself can be transformative for an organization, in deeply understanding its own values and purpose, its DNA, its role in the world, and its envisioned future.

The Vision takes a little time to become clear – it doesn’t usually happen in one conversation, or even one meeting. The process of getting there can vary, depending on the entity and its circumstances. It’s got to be powerful enough to energize people across the company or organization, not just the owner, CEO, or executive director.

Here are a few representative Vision Statements from Fortune 500 companies you may know:

Walmart: To be the best retailer in the hearts and minds of consumers and employees.

Amazon.com: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

McKesson: Our vision is to create a healthcare system that leads to lower costs, fewer mistakes, higher quality and better health for all.

Fannie Mae: To be America’s most valued housing partner.

Ford Motor Company: People working together as a lean, global enterprise to make people’s lives better through automotive and mobility leadership.

What’s your Vision?


P.S.: For some musical inspiration as you ponder Vision Statements, check out the song Guiding Star by Cast!


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Vision, Mission, Values. Personal Strategic Planning: Simply Stated

By Jake Kirpes

I’ve been thinking about this line from W. Edward Deming:

“It is not enough to do your best, you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

Ok, fine. But how do you figure out what to do in the first place, in order to do your best Hammockwith it? When you begin your daily separation from the comforts of sleep, are you driven by a larger goal or objective that really energizes you – that does propel you out of bed in the morning?

Strategic planning – something we tend to think of only for companies and nonprofit organizations – can help give us that clarity and drive. Specifically, 3 core pillars of strategic planning, Vision, Mission, and Values, can help answer the question of what to do, in order to know where to do our best.

Vision: Where do you want to go?

Vision provides direction and motivation for daily and more strategic decisions. It is a mental image of how you want your life to be. Think of your future – whether it’s 1 year, 5 years, or 25 years away. What kind of life do you want to be living? Where is it, who’s with you, what are you doing? Feel free to dream big – but it doesn’t have to include saving the world, being rich, or gaining fame. The most important thing is to feel it in your heart. Vision may be a mental image, but it truly is born and lives in the heart.

My personal Vision involves a full home of family, good food, and laughter. A house with a big back deck perfect for grilling on a Tuesday evening or hosting friends on a Friday night. Beyond the deck there is a garden teeming with life, warmth, and yes, even the humidity of an Iowa summer. Lastly – and crucially –  beside the garden a hammock under a shade tree, for lazy Sunday afternoons.

Your turn. What’s the Vision that feels right to you and your heart?

Mission: What do you want to achieve?

Where Vision comes from the heart, Mission is a product of the mind. For companies and other groups, mission is a response to the question, “Why do we as an organization exist?” For me (and you) as an individual, Mission is akin to what some might call “vocation.” What am I here on this earth to do?

Mission serves as a guidepost and sounding board for plans and decisions – both personal and professional.

I am still fine tuning my own Mission statement. What I currently have is best described as “directionally correct.” It includes solving systemic problems through systems engineering, thinking and design, and community engagement. The exact right words will come; for now, I’m clear on the direction – and that’s already helping me with planning and decision-making.

Your Mission in its purest form is unique to you. Can you write your personal Mission statement? It can often be a challenge to clearly state a personal mission. If you have trouble creating one or settling on the exact wording that fits you, that’s okay. Step back, give it some time and come back at it later. You can use every experience you have during that time to bring you closer to articulating your Mission. Every relationship you’re in, every organization you join, even every problem you encounter – all of these give you opportunities to “try on” and get clearer on the Mission that best fits you.

Values: How will we conduct ourselves along the way?

Values answer the question, “What are we willing or unwilling to do to reach our Vision and Mission?” They are beliefs that drive behavior; from one on one interactions behind closed doors to policies and practices at every level. Values distinguish individuals and organizations. In groups, aligned values create community, trust, and a deeper commitment to each other.  Misaligned values frustrate, distract, and dishearten.

To identify a rough draft of your Core Values, write down the names of 3-4 people you admire across the top of a blank page. Beneath each name write out the characteristics that you admire the most about each person. Look for commonalities or traits that jump out as significant to you and you’ll have a first draft of your personal Core Values.

Knowing What to Do: A 3 Way Test:

Once defined, the three-way test of your personal Vision, Mission, and Values offers a helpful, quick way to evaluate and determine where, what, and how you should apply your energy, focus, and time. When you have a clear answer to where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and how you will conduct yourself along the way, the question of what to do becomes as trivial as rolling out of bed to start your day.

And with that decision made, all that remains is to do your best.


Jake Kirpes is a Business Strategist & Engineer at TPG Companies. He’s a  team leader who excels at working with organizations and their leaders to identify, develop, and convert market opportunity to business success. TPG and Jake help a wide variety of businesses and organizations with their strategic planning. For this blog, Jake took some of the core concepts from that work and applied it to individuals at a more personal level. If you know of an organization or business that could benefit from strategic planning help, please share TPG’s name and info.


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Getting off the Rope

By Jake Kirpes

Sometimes no matter our personal skill, strength of our team, or knowledge of our current field, there’s just one way to overcome what’s challenging us.

Rope handsDuring an intensive leadership training camp in college my fellow Resident Assistants-in- training and I were progressing through a series of rope course challenges. By working together, rotating leadership roles to match strengths to each challenge, and growing as a team we had strung together a series of successful solutions. With confidence growing, we found ourselves blindfolded and marching along a wooded path.

Arriving at the next challenge, we remained blindfolded while our guide dispersed the group along a spider web maze of waist-high rope. Our guide presented the rules of the challenge: we were allowed to talk and ask each other questions but had to leave one hand on the rope until we found a way off the end of the rope.

Confident in our abilities, our group set about exploring the maze with our hands, calling out junctions of rope crossings, and working together to find the way off the rope. When the solution didn’t become apparent in the first 5 minutes team members began allocating themselves to junctions to help mark paths and find the exit. Five minutes later, the calm confidence began to erode, while tensions and volume began to rise.

In the next five minutes, all semblance of a unified team was fragmented with each member attempting to set their own direction and many questioning, loudly, if there even was a way off the rope at all. As my personal frustration and conviction no exit existed was reaching new heights, it was announced someone had found their way off the rope and sent onto the next challenge.

Renewing my search in earnest, I sought be to second off the rope. Ten minutes later, I was second to last still on. Feeling overwhelmed at the circumstance and convinced I had been over every inch many times, I stopped searching for a way off and, talking to myself, said loudly in frustration, “I need help”.  A second later I felt a touch on my shoulder and the guide spoke in my ear, “congratulations you’re off the rope”.

A powerful lesson. Sometimes the best way (and perhaps even the only way) to overcome a challenge is to ask for help.

Think through your own life and work. Is there something you’ve been putting off or been unable to resolve for far longer then you care to admit? Perhaps it’s time to ask for help.


Jake Kirpes is a Business Strategist & Engineer at TPG Companies. He’s a  team leader who excels at working with organizations and their leaders to identify, develop, and convert market opportunity to business success. And he’s learned to ask for help.

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Posted in Leadership, Strategy, Team Leadership/Management | Tagged , | 1 Comment