What matters to me, might not matter to you. That is the starting point for my thinking.

And the things you think are important might not matter a jot to someone else.

I suppose it is stating the obvious to say that we’re all different?

Public services have to think a lot about what really matters to people. I mean what really matters. Not what people value or need or want, but what matters to them.

I am not playing with words here. I am clear that these words…need / want / matter…mean different things to me.

I suppose the challenge is…without getting into a big debate about semantics…they probably mean different things to other people too.

But I’ve been thinking about what matters to me – personally – and there are four things that stand out.

My own ‘hierarchy of matters’ (not to rival Maslow’s!).

hierarchy of matters diagram


We’re social animals – so we spend a lot of time thinking about how we interact with other people.

We want people to behave positively towards us. And – for the most part (hopefully) – we want to behave positively towards them.

Kindness. Being supportive. Being considerate. Doing the right thing.

From a small interaction with a stranger on a train, to long-term interaction with a close friend or relative. I think how we behave towards other people really matters. Behaviour underpins everything.


After behaviour, for me, comes family.

I wrestled with this one…should family comes first? But I have put behaviour first as I believe it underpins family life.

We all belong to groups. Consumer groups. Age-groups. Economic groups. Biological groups.

Sometimes, it’s circumstance that brings us together – and not much else. But shared values – and the behaviour that shows those values – are often a huge factor. We want the people we’re closest too to value the same things we do. And vice-versa.

For me, sharing the same values as my family (including the way we behave towards each other and other people) is important. It’s part of what bonds us together.

positive contribution

I always want to make a positive contribution to the wider world. That’s important to me. And I hope it’s important to my family.

Doing something that feels meaningful – that feels like it will make a positive difference to the wider world – motivates me and drives me on. From supporting a charity to leading innovative activity at work.

I think making a positive contribution drives many folk. Doesn’t it?


At the top of my ‘what matters’ hierarchy is legacy.

It’s not just the sports-people, the politicians and the celebrities that think about legacy.

A lot of people do. Maybe most people do? I know I do.

Because our legacy is the imprint we leave behind after we’ve moved on. The things we did and the difference we made – both in our careers and our personal lives – still creating ripples long after we’ve left.

And maybe we’re all becoming more legacy-conscious because of the digital trail we leave behind via social media.

How much of our day-to-day life will we record for ‘legacy’ reasons in the future? Will we become more obsessed with documenting the things we do for future generations?


So there it is. Paterson’s hierarchy of what matters: behaviour > family > contribution > legacy.

But do these things matter to you? In a moment of casual thought, I might assume they do.

Which brings me back to the point of this article. We’re all different. Different things matter to different people.

So how can we – as professionals supporting and enabling the provision of services – really get to the bottom of what matters to our customers?

We consult. We engage. We involve customers in shaping services and  provision. But we often frame our conversations with customers around specific issues and questions. And we get framed or restricted feedback in return.

How often do we simply ask: “What really matters to you?”

Not very often.

How often do we apply our own personal hierarchy of what matters to our customers, and assume that what matters to us, matters to them?

More than we dare to admit…maybe?