Corporations, non-profits, businesses and start-ups share a success model based on achievements. Each organization has its unique thumbprint written into a mandate or mission statement. Most have these posted on their websites as hallmarks of thoughtful, good business practice. Attention is being paid to the ‘why’ a company exists and typically in the case of non-profits, the ‘who’ they are attempting to serve. The statements are based on Values.
Over time, and as growth occurs, these achievements are measured. Goals are set for employees, financial benchmarks increase, companies buoyed by success look for innovative ways to meet their potential. And this is where it gets interesting.
As a contract employee with many years of freelance consulting and producing, I have been privy to a wide scope of high level board room conversations. As incredibly diverse as these projects have been, one constant is true – the leadership in these rooms sets the tone. (There are many fantastic articles and books about leadership that prove across cultures specific leadership styles remain consistent. No need to re-visit in this article. Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead is quite literally, the manifesto.) Stay with me here…
It is the culture of success in the board room that defines the ultimate success of the company. Obvious, yes? What isn’t so clear is how the measurement of success can easily slip away from the early achievement goals based on Values. Being in the room or part of the conversations of so many different types of organizations has offered me a front row seat with a balcony perspective. Leading my own projects has provided the ‘in the trenches’ experience of keeping a team on the path to reaching goals while holding onto the mission -which is the true heart of the work. It’s not easy. Especially when there are so many ‘constituents’ to please! Murky messaging occurs when the heart of the work is forgotten and success outcomes shift. Here is today’s big realization:
We value the measurements of our success. When really, for true success we should be measuring our values.
Mic drop. (Hello, is thing on? Anyone still with me?)
In our pursuit of success – as companies and as individuals – have we put all our eggs in the ‘measurement basket’? When did measuring our values stop being important? Companies need to continue to keep the values at the forefront of decision making asking questions such as ‘is this new direction inline with our company values?’ That initial foundation of ‘value built success‘ unfortunately gives way to numbers driven, employee stressed, higher and higher achievement expectations that chase outcomes based on numbers metrics. Amazon is the ideal example of this culture, almost to caricature status! Once a company that thrived by providing a much needed service to an increasingly busy customer, Amazon is now making headlines for the almost inhumane conditions its employees must work under, to achieve a new set of company goals based on measurements to success that have swung far from the initial people-centered mission. (John Oliver breaks down the Amazon example in a far more in-depth and entertaining way, here )
Let me put this another way: a new company initially looks for clients who mirror their values, we look for like-minded clients who share certain affinities. They are the low hanging fruit so to speak, of potential contracts. As the company succeeds and expansion continues, the measurement of success is increasingly about productivity, achievement and growth. The story that can be told by the accumulated data – the numbers – takes center stage; percentages based on dollars and bank figures; graphs, charts and spreadsheets become the benchmark. And this is the easiest way to recognize a shift in company culture. The story changes. The story is no longer about the ‘why’ and ‘who’.
Growth, achievement, output, all absolutely need to be the goals of running a successful corporation. Success is awesome and important. It just seems to me, that when we put more emphasis on the measurements – the data – we lose sight of greater potential. Give me a room full of people dedicated to the Values of the organization and the achievements will blow the limits off of any growth chart! Focus on the Measurements, and the value system is askew. That same room of awesome people will have to use that same extraordinary collective energy, to push numbers. Ugh. Trust me, focus on the Values and the numbers will follow.
I just need to say it one more time. About Success.
To achieve true success we need to continually Measure our Values. Otherwise, we end up Valuing the Measurements – which is not a long term strategy for success. It’s people, people! Keep our eye on the Values and growth will follow. Along with happiness. And a whole slew of other healthy outcomes.