Life is unpredictable in terms of the opportunities and challenges it brings in one’s life. Life, apart from the fundamental foundation of being a part of the family, is also being a part of an organization. Such an organization could be anything, from the informal friends’ circle one develops in the childhood to the educational institutions that prepare one for independent economic life. Once a person is fully qualified educationally or vocationally, the firm or the agency that the person joins to earn a livelihood by contributing his intellectual and physical capabilities becomes the organization. Being successful and happy as a part of the internal family organization and external professional organization is a key objective of every person.
This blog post explores what could make a person successful and happy in organizations. In doing so, it does not consider, solely for the purpose of the post, the nexus between professional and family success, and happiness; nor does it consider one outcome as the trigger of the other. The author believes that both the aspects of life, family and professional, are interrelated and can be optimized as a whole for superior success and performance, provided certain basic triggers and drivers of success and happiness in life are understood. However, given that the formal professional organization is an established form of organization which runs on certain principles, such organization, and individual in organization, is taken up to explore the agenda of success and happiness in life.
Success and happiness
Success and happiness are highly contextual and individualistic, defying easy and common definition. Not all successful people are happy people and not all happy people are successful ones. Success is seen to be a materialistic happening and happiness is seen to be a philosophical experience; neither being wholly true. Success is seen to occur within and as a result of certain consensual acknowledgement in an organizational system while happiness is seen to spring from within the individual; either being only partially true. Success is considered to be a measurable and visible metric while happiness is understood to be an immeasurable, embedded emotion; neither is unassailable as metrics and measurements may be wrong as much as smiles and symbolism may be faked. Success takes time to build and is sustainable (even in the face of failures) while happiness could be ephemeral and transient (and unrelated to successes or failures). Clearly, there are many gross and subtle definitions of success and happiness.
As there is no easy and universal definition of success and happiness, a few baseline criteria would be relevant, combining the context and the individual as well as the organization. Success is often based on accomplishment against a set of organizational and individual goals, in a manner that they are visible and measurable. Success is materialistic to the extent of building value for the organization and influencing career for the individual. Happiness is a sense of fulfillment that a person or a group of persons experiences when the person or the group receives economic or non-economic recognition, directly or indirectly linked to the person’s or the group’s contributions. Happiness is individualistic, and is both materialistic and philosophical, to the extent that depending on the philosophical and emotional disposition of an individual he or she may choose to accentuate or attenuate the happiness quotient. Be that as it may, it is important for individuals in an organization to understand the means of deriving and sustaining success as well as happiness.
Convergence within divergence
Success and happiness, though correlated with success being independent variable and happiness being the dependent variable, are not necessarily convergent phenomena. A baby instantly derives happiness when the baby achieves the success of cuddle from the mother. A child derives success when he or she accomplishes a mechanistic activity, seen to be beyond reach, and in the process of performance also derives much happiness. However, as the child grows into a student and as a student becomes an employee, what determines success and how it influences happiness become divergent. The goal of progressive organizations, not unnaturally, is to set up people for success to make them happy and also to have happy people in the organization so that the firm can be positioned for success.
It is up to the individuals to recognize that it is important for their lives to seek convergence of success and happiness. It is up to the organizations to facilitate a nexus between happiness and success by celebrating success. However, it is important for both the individuals and the organizations to build a culture of an organization that facilitates the convergence of success and happiness even though divergent parameters define and drive each outcome of success and happiness. This would be possible when individuals and organizations understand two fundamental concepts of integrating success and happiness. These are awareness management and resilience management. These two concepts are grounded on the premise that neither success nor happiness is absolute and there exists a large latitude to achieve success even after failure and ensure happiness despite unhappiness.
When an individual or an organization is asked as to what determines success in an organization the answer is likely to be that a combination of competencies and attitudes determines the success. While this is true, it is awareness that makes a fundamental difference in influencing success or failure. Awareness itself has two facets, internal and external. Internal or self awareness enables one to appreciate one’s competencies and attitudes, delineating adequacies and inadequacies in each. In an organizational context, it is unusual for employees to have varied competencies and attitudes. Self-awareness enables an employee to play to his or her strengths rather than follow stereotypes of performance or just stick to assigned roles despite the alignment. Self-examination is psychologically nuanced and requires that one honestly challenges one’s beliefs and marshals the courage to act on that information which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about one’s life, and what determines one’s successes and happiness.
The theory of Argyris and Schon (1978) points out to the value of learning through awareness approaches. When an error is detected and corrected but permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its present objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when an error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives. Employees who follow the double-loop learning process are able to appreciate where and how their competencies and attitudes align with organizational roles and responsibilities. Organizations which follow double-loop learning are able to induct and develop talent that meets higher aspirations. Clearly, organizations must also deploy double loop learning, which together with employees’ own approach leads to synergistic results.
External awareness deploys double loop learning with an additional strategic context. An individual should not be content with one’s own awareness but should seek 360 degree feedback on what others perceive of him or her. He or she also should resort to established psychological analytical tools to understand one’s own self better. An organization must similarly look at successful organizations and try to understand what makes them more successful or less successful and more or less vibrant than itself; vibrancy setting the organizational tone of happiness. While awareness of an individual is hampered by one’s relative ego state or closed state of mind, awareness of an organization is limited by the relative bureaucracy and ossification in its management. Managing for awareness, both internal and external, is a key facet of an individual’s and organization’s success factors. A cognitive approach that questions every aspect of competencies and attitudes in relation to internal culture and external environment is helpful for both individuals and organizations.
Resilience in terms of physics is the ability of a substance to return to its original shape after it has been bent, stretched or pressed. In a people sense, it is the ability of people or organizations to feel better quickly and recover appropriately after anything unpleasant or unexpected, such as shock, injury etc. Resilience is also an age related phenomenon. As we know, toddlers, infants and youngsters have tremendous resilience in their skeletal and muscular systems that inevitably decline over age. Gymnasts and sports persons sustain or even improve resilience by exacting training and skilful techniques, along with an openness to take risks. Organizations also tend to display a lowering resilience with age. Startups and young firms typically are able to have flexibility, adaptability and agility and return to growth path despite setbacks quickly. Mature firms, in contrast, tend to be resilient.
Resilience in an individual and organizational context has deeper import. Given the unpredictable external environment and heightened competition on one hand and periodical assessment of performance of employees by the managements and quarterly evaluation of firm performance by investors on the other, performance shocks and unpleasant feedback is commonplace. In respect of individuals, resilience is the ability of an individual not to be put down by shocks, stabilize one’s mind and heart, and reevaluate one’s competencies and attitudes in the perspective of a long career of four decades. In respect of organizations, resilience is the ability of a firm to take performance and competitive setbacks in its stride, update strategy and tactics, reinforce and motivate the talent base and create a new energy. Firms will do well to remember that unlike individuals they can be ageless if only they are resilient (apart from being aware).
Importantly, being resilient is different from being fatalistic. The outstanding example of resilience is that of Japan, a country that has virtually risen from ashes after the World War II to become the world’s leading technological and economic power. The resilience of Japan has been a resultant of the brain power and work ethic of the people. Individuals and firms need to marshal the hidden brain power and ignored work ethic to develop customized hypothesis of resilience. For individuals as much as for corporations, kneejerk or ad-hoc responses hamper rather than reinforce resilience. Individuals may have different response mechanisms and abilities to reinforce resilience; for example, silence and pause could give mind and heart the chance to recoup innate optimism and energy. Organizations may also have different response mechanisms and abilities to reinforce resilience; for example, reviews, collaboration and networking may help the firm to emerge stronger.
Arming with ARM
The foregoing brings out that awareness management and resilience management have a major role to play in ensuring success and happiness of individuals as of organizations. Certainly, talent and dedication (as well as luck) play crucial roles in success but one needs to be aware of one’s own competencies and attitudes in relation to what is required in the context of internal and external requirements. Despite the right talent and attitudes, individuals and organizations do face setbacks due to several internal and external factors. Resilience with persistence marks the difference between leaders and followers. Awareness and Resilience Management (ARM) typically arms individuals and organizations to derive sustained success and happiness, despite there being no universally applicable benchmarks of success and happiness.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on February 3, 2013