Measuring Success in the Workplace

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

As you know, I am constantly in search of ideas from other domains that might be of relevance for the workplace.  One rich source of leadership can be found in the domain of team sports; and when I recently discovered a TED presentation recorded by John Wooden, a coach I highly respect, I knew he would provide some useful food for thought.

Drawing on a lifetime of experience working with young athletes, coach Wooden offers his personal paradigm for measuring success in his sport.  For those of you who don’t know John Wooden, he is considered by many to be the best college basketball coach of all time; he currently holds the college record for most career wins.

Although the record holder for career wins, retired basketball coach is best known for his leadership skills in developing young athletes and men.

Although the record holder for career wins, retired basketball coach is best known for his leadership skills in developing young athletes and men.

In this TED presentation, Coach Wooden comments on how coaches, players and fans are conditioned to measure success in terms of games won or points scored. In his mind there is a dilemma with this kind of measurement – each of us is blessed with different levels of ability. That is, from year to year, the collective talents of the players he is able to recruit can vary dramatically.  This fact alone means we must find a more balanced and instructive measure of performance that establishes a level playing field; and one that supports motivation and high levels of achievement.

So, coach Wooden offered the following model of performance:

  • Performance is measured in terms of effort. “Always be the best you can be”. If you put in the effort, “the results are about what they should be”.  Further, winning and losing can be poor indicators of effort, since a great effort can result in a loss and poor effort can result in a win. Wooden suggests that we never speak about winning; instead we should focus on the effort or action required to achieve the goal.
  • Coach Wooden also places a great deal of importance on character. “Character is more important than what you are perceived to be” and can be defined in several ways: appearance (be neat and clean, no profanity), attitude (no whining or complaining, no excuses, never be late, be prepared to learn from others), respect for others (never criticize a teammate, never try to be better than someone else).
  • The coach reminds us that our personal peace of mind is important; and measurement of this is in “knowing that you do the best of which you are capable”.
  • Finally, coach Wooden cites a quote from Cervantes: “the journey is better than the inn”. Specifically, do not allow perhaps unrealistic objectives to distract you from enjoying the process of effort.

There is a wisdom in John Wooden’s model that can be applied in the workplace.

  • Clearly, the achievement of goals is important; however, managers and employees, in an effort to impress their supervisors or to overcome low self-esteem, will over promise — the consequence of poor goal setting is pressure, anxiety, stress, anger, resentment and potentially burnout.  Although supervisors always want more, they will respect a manager who promises realistic levels of achievement.  Further, Wooden’s lesson is simply that we should set goals around activities or events over which we exert some control.  Winning and losing and excessive deadlines are beyond our control.
  • The character of the manager and the character of the team are key factors in achieving success.  Although they are not pure measures of success, they are determinants of success;  that is, the knowledge that my team has a positive attitude, a winning attitude and respect each other, will improve my chances of success.
  • Although organizations have performance measurement systems, it is useful for employees to hold themselves to account on a regular basis.  This means a little soul searching that you have indeed done your job to the best of your ability.  In this regard, the employee has the best handle on their own performance and the employee that regularly documents their own performance over the course of the year will usually surprise their manager with how much they have achieved.  But as Wooden points out having this information in hand is very comforting to the employee; that is, “I know I worked hard and produced for my organization”.
  • Finally, for employees to be fully invested in the outcome of their work, they must also enjoy the journey.  They must enjoy coming to work everyday and associating their their colleagues.  They must also enjoy the work.  This is where soul searching is essential.  If you do not enjoy the journey, there is no way you can perform to your potential; if you are putting in time for a pay cheque, it is time to review your career path and move on.

What is your experience? Do you feel this model would work effectively in your workplace? Do you feel the pressure of unrealistic goals? On Friday, I will continue on this theme citing the work on another coach — me.  Friday’s “Craig’s Top Five List” will comment on how my experience coaching team sports was instrumental in defining my approach to management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *