We tend to measure success on something of a binary scale – win, lose. Even with 3 levels of ‘win’ during the Olympics, most people seem to have one particular colour of medal in mind. Being at the top of your game is all-important, or we wouldn’t have doping scandals and huge levels of corporate sponsorship. Everyone wants to be on the winning side.
In business most people head for the top throughout their career. Up, or out. Climbing the ladder of life, we buy a bigger house or a bigger car and work hard to increase income and responsibility. Definitions of success tend to focus on ‘attaining wealth, prosperity or fame’.
Just like in the field of sport, we push ourselves ever harder and raise the bar continually.
What was an acceptable standard of living or career achievement 5 years ago now doesn’t seem much to shout about. The comparison of our lives with those of our peers causes constant dissatisfaction, on one count or another.
You only have to compare Lyft and Uber to see how arbitrary our measurement of business success can be. Without Uber on the scene, Lyft would have been regarded as a fantastic achievement. Now it is often described as having ‘lost’ by comparison with Uber.
But with the rise of the social entrepreneur, will we see a sideways shift in this kind of thinking?
It used to be people who ‘opted out’ of the system that rejected traditional success, in exchange for the ‘good life’. Now people are starting to change things for the better from ‘within’ the system, rather than from outside it.
This calls for a broader definition of success as: “the status of having accomplished an aim or objective, desired visions or planned goals.” All accomplishments take resilience, persistence and boundless positive energy to achieve. But for increasing numbers of people, the end destination is changing shape. Particularly (though not exclusively) among the emerging millennial workforce, ‘bigger, better, more’ is not as motivating as it once was. People want to feel they are making a real contribution to society ‘as well as’ making enough to live on.
How does this shift in perspective about life success, translate at employee level?
How many appraisal processes take into account the life goals people are working towards, regardless of their job title? How many companies take the learnings and experiences people gain from volunteer work and integrate these back into personal development KPIs? Ok, as business owners we want our staff to keep on working harder towards our corporate goals. But what if we could have an honest discussion with our staff about what they want to achieve in life, over and above their promotion timetable? Maybe they have always wanted to run a marathon. Maybe they want to fight for the plight of the honey bee. Whatever their goal, wouldn’t it be great to feel they are getting more out of life ‘because’ they are employed by your firm?
Success should have as many definitions as there are people on earth. Let’s help people script their own version and call a halt to keeping up with the Joneses.