Blog: The hierarchy of success

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The hierarchy of success

Does the definition of success really change as one grows in ones career?
The hierarchy of success
 

Success has a hierarchy model and it links to the role hierarchy of an organization, to the social ecosystem an individual operates in and the need hierarchy

 

 

Most of us studied the Maslow's Need Hierarchy model. Over time, I realized that success also has a hierarchy model. It links to the role hierarchy of an organization, to the social ecosystem an individual operates in and yes, the need hierarchy.

When one begins a career as an individual contributor, one needs to measure success very tangibly and immediately. And it is also driven by a need for validation, the sources of which are multiple and where measures of success are many. The model is mainly that of instant gratification. At this stage, the workstation size, parking lot, size of your vehicle are not very important and fairly democratized. But indeed your name coming up as project team members, on company bulletin boards, being called for important meetings are significant measures. Money is important too. At this stage, you are open to discussing your salary with your close friends and your family (depending on the cultural/geographical context) and may flaunt your salary as well. So the salary slip is in partially public domain. There is media created pressure for starting salaries, so you compare yourself with colleagues who joined an investment bank and define your success in relative terms. 

As one moves into managing a small team, a lot of success measures still remain the same. Managing a team larger than your peers is a measure of your success. One begins to measure one’s own success through the success of the team and see their recognition as one’s own. Salary becomes fairly private data now and formal performance ratings play an important role as a reflection of success in the organization. However, success is still driven largely by individual excellence and achievement orientation. One’s consultative and supportive skills are often overshadowed by the need to be credited for success on individual efforts as you seek your own spot under the Sun.

In the middle management, success acquires further layers. Now one wishes to be recognized for mini-turnarounds of performance. Visible closeness to senior management is seen as an important indicator. Money becomes very important as some of the life goals need to be fed regularly. Recognition in external networks is a reflection of success and one wishes to market it to the organization showing one’s employability and relevance to a larger ecosystem. It is time that success is achieved by consultative and supportive behavior than only by personal excellence. Another conflict that begins to surface is one’s own standards of excellence vs. the team's collective standards of excellence. 

As one gets into senior management, money still remains a high priority. At this stage of one’s life, financial needs become even more pronounced and one is in a better position to put a real number to them .... the cost of a weekend villa, the tuition fees of an Ivy League college etc. These goals feed into one’s motivation and are also a reflection of success. Social trappings acquire huge importance at this stage. Rubbing shoulders with socially important clients/customers/stakeholders and being seen at the right parties is important.

At the workplace, it is important that one’s inputs for issues of strategic importance are sought, visibly. Driving initiatives shaping the organization, leading the "important" businesses or verticals that are seen as future growth engines, being sought out for helping a business in distress, and of course leading large cross functional teams outside your direct sphere of influence are important measures. Success of one’s business, its growth and success of one’s own people is now an important measure of your success. Have you been able to contribute to the organizational talent pool? Do people relate to you as a mentor? Being able to retain top talent within your team is important. A lot of success measures are now "reflected" and indirect. Research and data on 360 degree feedbacks often indicate that the peer group is your biggest critic. Acceptance by the peer group and respect within them is a very important measure of success.

These were my thoughts on how success keeps redefining itself as you grow. I will be happy to know if they resonate with you, and if you see different/more measures of success at different stages of career.

This blog was first published here

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