How Do You Measure Success?
I encountered one of the most centering definitions of success during high school.
It was by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
His more humanistic definition of success goes: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded!”
I still like Emerson’s definition (and on better days, I can take it to heart), but admittedly, it’s a bit too “soft” when it comes to measuring success in most enterprises, from business to ministry.
How you measure success depends on your enterprise, your goals, your measures, and to a real extent, how others measure and affirm success.
There’s a difference between performance and success.
Measuring performance is relatively easy.
You can determine your own measures or be guided by “industry standard” metrics.
You can set a baseline for performance and measure improvement, from incremental to spectacular.
Success, on the other hand is a bit harder to determine.
Increased performance does not necessarily translate to recognized success.
Like it or not, success is determined by external perceptions and recognition.
You can claim success all day long, but you’re not successful until and unless others say you are.
Don’t Keep Score on the Wrong Things
Because success often depends on external validity, we are often tempted to measure it by others’ criteria.
The danger, then, becomes that we may be tempted to keep score on the wrong things.
It’s easy to feel “successful” if you lower your expectations or standards, but you run the risk of feeling like a failure if you set goals too lofty or unrealistic to obtain.
And there’s always the angst of comparing yourself with others when it comes to success, which risks focusing on the wrong things.
So how do you measure success?
By your own standards, or by what others are willing to recognize in you and your efforts?
And, are you keeping score of the right things?
- Effectiveness vs. Efficiency (though they are not mutually exclusive)
- Reputation vs. Impact
- Headcount vs. FTE (full-time equivalent), in education
- Return on investment
- Attendance vs. participation
- Activity vs. outcome
- Membership vs. commitment
- Number of new memberships vs. recidivism
- Satisfaction or relevance
- Cost vs. value
- Gross vs. net
- Short term gains vs. long term progress
- Number of social media likes vs. impact and influence
- Numbers vs. influence
- Attendance vs. engagement
How will you measure success? Don’t keep score on the wrong things!
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.