What does success look like to you?

How will you know whether you have achieved it?

I grew up in Peterborough and when I was not playing rugby I used to watch the local football team – Peterborough United. Having left Peterborough many years ago I was able to go to Old Trafford a couple of years ago to watch The Posh win promotion via the play-offs to The Championship.

For the club, that was success (as evidenced by the Old Trafford scoreboard), albeit short lived as they soon found themselves back in Football League 1.

I was reminded recently of the importance of being able to describe accurately what success looks during a recent conversation. The conclusions, such as they were, were quite interesting. Whilst we all had differing views, profit seemed to be the most common, and certainly most tangible, measure of success. Not surprising given the conversation took place at a networking event for small businesses (the excellent Laptop Friday). However, there was no disagreement that whatever criteria one used had to be measurable.

I struggled with identifying criteria for my business, nVision Consulting, because it is a Social Enterprise where profit is not my motivation. Eventually I identified two primary success criteria – a monetary target and direct, face to face, contact hours. The criteria recognise that it is legitimate for a business to make money but also allow for pro bono work. They are based on an underlying assumption that all my work, whether paid or unpaid, will have a benefit to the community (even if I cannot measure that directly).

A recent Harvard Business Review posed this question in the broader work life balance context and introduced a helpful matrix of objective and subjective measures against both career and personal criteria. It is an interesting exercise to do, and the article states that

Subjective success is an individual’s response to an objective situation.

It is important to feel successful. I can feel successful if I believe that working with local charities will help them to deliver better social outcomes. That is why nVision Consulting engages primarily in the UK’s Voluntary and Community Sector. And there is plenty of objective evidence to back up the concept that implementing the PQASSO Quality Standard, for example, delivers real benefit to organisations and the communities they serve.

A journey, not a destination.

Arthur Ashe, the former World number 1 tennis player, is quoted as having said

Success is a journey not a destination.

Adrian Malpass, in his most rercent monthly ‘Building Better Businesses’ newsletter, gives some practical tips on leadership. His final tip “set out to achieve excellence in everything you do” notes that this is another of those things that has ‘no finish line’. Like success, striving for excellence is a journey.

Returning to how we started this blog, and by way of emphasising the nature of journeys, Peterborough United have once again qualifyied for the League 1 play offs. As already noted their previous success was only transient and certainly not a destination; time to try again and this time sustain that success.

So it is not surprising that we all have a different idea of what success is, and even that success for us may change over time as our circumstances change.

Please let me know:

  • How do you define success?
  • Can you measure it?
  • And how do you ensure you sustain it?