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How Do You Define Success?

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It was pretty clear we weren’t going to be on the same page. I’ll save you the majority of the details—and some of the tangential topics—but I had a discussion recently with a friend about what “success” means. It stemmed from a comment he made about the surprising “success” his company had in 2020, amid the pandemic. 

For context, he’s an executive in a large, multi-billion-dollar corporation. And, well, you know me already. We were bound to have some philosophical differences, but those viewpoints aside, I was just genuinely curious about his comment.

“How do you define success for your company?”

It came down to margin goals, and overall profitability. His company effectively hit nearly all of its financial objectives. Sure, he explained, they had a slight reduction in overall revenue, but with limiting expenses (remember that comment), they were able to surpass many of their margin goals. They had recently closed out their fourth quarter at the time we talked, and their executive-level meeting about the results was positive, nearly across the board. 

Now, we’re burying the lead in this story, right? That comment about limiting expenses: The company laid off nearly 2,000 employees early in the pandemic, and has no plans to hire back the vast majority of them. 

So, I’ll ask all of you reading, How do you define success in your company?

This is a question we ask often as we try to present the stories and strategies of the industry’s most “successful” leaders. Yes, we do have a set of benchmarks we look at in vetting sources for our content, and there are a number of ways that we verify the effectiveness of the strategies they share with us. Still, there’s a level of subjectivity, as success comes in many shapes and sizes.

Associate editor Megan Gosch’s piece, “Small But Mighty,” is a perfect example of this, as she highlights “smaller” operations around the country who are making a huge impact—both within their businesses and in their communities. These are lessons that can be emulated regardless of your own business footprint and scale. 

Now, I’d doubt many of these folks Megan profiled would agree with my friend about his company’s success last year—or at least, they’d feel as uneasy as I did in hearing it explained. My friend and I had an interesting debate, as at 10 Missions Media, the top-of-the-list reason we shared with our team about why 2020 was successful was that we were able to get through the year with zero layoffs, furloughs or pay reductions for our teams. 

That’s a stark contrast, huh?

Depending on your dictionary, success is often defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; that last word is the key for me, and that’s where philosophical differences tend to creep in with people. Financial goals and benchmarks are critical as guideposts to achieve our larger purpose, but only you can decide what that purpose is. We don’t all have to agree, but we should each have our own answer. At Ratchet+Wrench, our purpose is to help you achieve yours. So, however you define success for your operation, let’s keep pushing for it.

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