For a lot of organisations, everything they do is geared towards results. As such, success is only measured in terms of getting these results. But if people are not growing as individuals or enjoying the work, then the results alone are not sustainable.
If you're a leader concerned with accomplishment, you’ll want to create a tripod on which that accomplishment can stand. The trouble is that most businesses rest the weight of success on just one leg called results.
Of course, a results-focused approach is important. But building towards a breakthrough with only results to back you up is a bit like putting up a tent using just one pole – you’re going to need something else to help prop it up.
Accomplishments within a business need to rest on a foundation of three structural supports, otherwise known as the three pillars of accomplishment.
Results, of course, make up one of these pillars. The second pillar is development and growth – ensuring you and your team grew from the process. The third is fulfilment – ensuring you and your team found fulfilment in the process. When an accomplishment stands on these three supports, a second and a third breakthrough are likely to follow.
Added to this, if you have a successful financial year but no one wants to repeat it, your success isn’t sustainable. Unless the three pillars are in place, you can’t carry on going around the track again, faster and faster, aiming for better performance. The results may arrive for a little while, but sooner or later a tire is going to blow. Burnout is going to show up in the talent turnover, the engagement of those who stay, and in the level of collaboration you can achieve.
Needless to say, when it comes to addressing the three pillars, it’s not a question of assigning them to different departments. To create meaningful growth and authentic fulfilment you can’t simply make sales teams responsible for the first, L&D for the second, HR for the third etc. These qualities need to be hard baked into everything.
L&D, HR and People teams are still essential parts of the package. But they’re not solely responsible for ensuring development and fulfilment are intrinsically linked to what it is you’re trying to achieve.
When people are passionate about the accomplishment they’re going after, they don’t necessarily need much more input to keep them going. Likewise, if they’re aiming for a result which demands personal growth, it gives them an outlet for their training and a hard reason to upskill.
So the three pillars of accomplishment are not mutually exclusive, and they need to be married up together. When you’re working towards a result, it needs to be ambitious enough that the business is going to learn and grow, and it needs to feel meaningful enough to ensure everyone will be fulfilled in undertaking the project.
There’s also a level at which you can’t dictate this. It's the responsibility of all people in your organisation to ensure they are not only getting results but developing and finding meaning in what they do.
The pillars of accomplishment aren’t only a macro issue for the C-suite to consider. Leaders also need to empower and engage their people in this, to set a culture where fulfilment and growth are valued equally alongside results.
When the conversations in the organisation make way for fulfilment and development to stand tall, there’s paradoxically more room for results too. People committed to getting the work done will be even more successful when they are committed to personal growth and finding fulfilment. When this happens en masse, the capacity of an organisation expands, perceptions change, and soon impossibilities seem like opportunities ripe for the picking.
To begin moving the needle in the right direction, it’s worth considering what you value.
Netflix, for instance, decided they had no shortage of experts applying for positions. What they needed was to ensure that people stayed because they found fulfilment there, not because it was simply a high paying gig.
As a result, they began offering all employees a large severance package. After a probationary period, anyone could leave and have more than enough to see them through. If anyone was in it for the money, they’d grab the cash and run.
Netflix hasn’t suffered a permanent exodus of employees. They’ve still got some of the brightest minds on the task, but they’ll now have a greater level of commitment from them too.
Now not everyone has the funds to give their employees a golden handshake in a severance. But there are other ways we can communicate to people that their fulfilment and growth is just as important as the results they deliver. This might show itself in the way you hire, the people you promote, or the permission you give them to go after the impossible. It’s also in the conversations we have about what’s important, how we prioritise and what we acknowledge.
There’s a French author and pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who summed up how the right aspiration defines the possibility of achievement. He wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Your language will lay the foundations for long-term accomplishments. And to create the kind of accomplishments that last, leaders will need to speak them into being, supported by the three, interconnected pillars that matter: results, growth and fulfilment.
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