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?
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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