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How Do Your Employees Define Success?

When employees succeed in their careers, so do their teams, departments, functions and organizations.  As a result, businesses work diligently to develop systems and processes to promote career development; leaders grapple with how to help people reach their goals given structures that are flatter and leaner than ever before.

Too frequently though, these efforts are based upon assumptions that may not be accurate for all employees. They center on promotions and pay increases….which, in today’s business climate can be in short supply. But, the good news is that these factors may not play as prominent a role in an employee’s satisfaction as others that are squarely within a typical manager’s control.

A recent study of one hundred frontline employees asked how they defined career success and (surprise!) no one mentioned raises and only one person wrote down  ‘promotions’… then went back and crossed it off!

Money and moves were not top of mind.

These responses paint a hopeful picture for leaders who want to help their employees and organizations succeed. The most frequently mentioned definitions among the nearly five hundred words and phrases shared sort to seven significant themes.

Enjoyment – Satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment and gratification with work

Achievement – A feeling of accomplishment, the ability to make an impact, and feeling challenged

Engagement – Interesting work that offers variety as well as mental and social stimulation

Purpose – Having work that is infused with a sense of meaning that allows one to contribute and add value (to others/organization)

Energy – Work for which one has active enthusiasm and passion

Learning – Being able to acquire new skills and knowledge in service of growth and improvement

Work-life balance – The freedom to pursue other interests and enjoy minimal stress

While some of these themes require more creativity to facilitate than others, most fall squarely within a typical manager’s purview. They cost little or nothing except some honest attention to others. And they support countless other business imperatives around productivity, service, improvement, discretionary effort, and more.

So, perhaps it’s time to stop hiding behind debilitating and inaccurate assumptions that inhibit our ability to help others thrive. Perhaps it’s time to consider and expand our own definitions of career success. And perhaps it’s time to begin having a different conversation… one that helps to surface what matters most to employees. There just might be a lot more common ground and mutually beneficial outcomes than we think.


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