Employee & Business Success

Even in companies that are experiencing success, many employees don’t feel personally successful. Success needs to be defined for employees as more than just the absence of failure. Organizations are rethinking their annual performance reviews. Employees have too long endured annual reviews that feel unfair, arbitrary, and oblivious to their accomplishments. This has led some to declare the annual review is dead. Our research says otherwise. Annual reviews are evolving into continuous performance management, with frequent one-on-ones tied to employee goals and desires, where managers provide mentoring and support to help employees succeed, and the organization succeeds as a result.

Success has a buzz that is palpable in thriving organizations. We measure Success using five dimensions: the “winning team” perception, organizational reputation, hearing and seeing accomplishment, innovation, and if the team is an example of success. Despite record profits and earnings, we found perception of personal success to be a weakness in companies throughout the world. This reinforces our crucial point: success is not merely about winning, it is about establishing a pattern of supported victories. Such a pattern happens when accomplishments are encouraged, achieved, and celebrated.

People love the feeling of accomplishment, of having contributed in meaningful ways to a positive outcome. Employees are fueled by the confidence that comes from being on a winning team. Old notions of success as a state of being are giving way to a deeper, more realistic understanding that success comes in bite-sized pieces in the form of ongoing accomplishments. Therefore, moments when someone makes a real difference need to be carefully cultivated, savored, and remembered. They are the peak experiences of work life—the stepping stones of personal and organizational progress. As employees draw an increasing sense of self-esteem, belonging, and identity from their employer, they won’t choose to work for an organization that is not successful or leading in their industry. This has important implications for hiring—if you want the best and brightest talent, people need to see a pattern of success in both your organization and its people.

Facilitating success requires the discipline of removing barriers to greatness, allowing employees to innovate despite failures, and encouraging people to work above their resumes.

Employees need to know what success looks like, understand how to be successful, have the tools to be successful, and feel that their performance is actively coached, supported, and fairly assessed. In other words, employees need to see success happening, be empowered to achieve their own success, and feel the organization celebrates and broadcasts their successes when they happen.

Room for More Success

Our study found that a mere 54% of employees felt like they accomplished something they considered significant at work in the past 30 days. This differed between leaders and employees: 65% of leaders report feeling success at work, while only 45% of individual contributors said they felt personally successful.

Feelings of success differ based on job level:

65% of leaders feel a sense of success

45% of individuals feel a sense of success

Our research found that employees feel successful when they:

1. Have the tools they need
2. Receive fair performance assessments
3. Know how to achieve more in the organization
4. Understand what success looks like

If these four elements are present, 92% of employees say they feel successful. If these elements are missing, only 17% say they feel successful. That is a 441% difference!

441% Difference in perception of success when the 4 above principles are applied.


Regularly hearing about accomplishments and receiving frequent performance assessments are both critical elements when it comes to helping employees identify and quantify their personal success. Unfortunately, these discussions don’t happen often enough or effectively. Only 60% of employees say their performance is fairly assessed at their organization, and over half wish they could have more conversations with their leader about their development. While most employees have some form of performance review (annual, quarterly, semi-annual, or monthly one-on-one meetings with a manager), only 15% said they participated in all three. We found that performance discussions are most effective when you have all three types (annual, quarterly, and regular one-on-one). On their own, none of these review types showed a distinct impact on an employee’s sense of success.

“If you’re a high performer, you don’t really get a very helpful performance review. You’ll get the best rating, a 10% raise, and your full bonus. But not a deep review. They don’t highlight what you’re doing well. It’s missing a discussion about where you want to take your career and how your manager can help you get to the next level. A deeper review of my performance, motivates me and helps me learn.“

Enabling employees to find success requires ongoing conversations, room for risks and failures, and making success visible throughout the organization. In other words, being successful together.


Provide feedback more than once a year.

The annual review is not dead, but it shouldn’t be the only time employees hear about their performance. Combined with continuous one-on-one’s, quarterly reviews, and daily conversations, performance management should be a holistic and regular part of the employee experience.

We found when companies utilized two methods of performance management, they saw a 44% increase in employee perception of success. When all three methods were used, there was a 104% increase in perceived success. When organizations only use one method of feedback, there was a decrease in perceived success.

Many managers schedule one-on-ones with their direct reports but often forget, cancel, or are unprepared for them. One-on-ones are an essential part of performance management because they are continuous. The employee doesn’t have to wait until the next quarter or the end of the year. They receive immediate feedback on how they are doing—their successes, how to improve, and where they stand with their manager and organization. One-on-ones also allow leaders to set goals, create coaching plans for employees who need them, check in on special projects, and identify if an employee encounters a challenge that affects his or her experience. They offer a chance to build a connection with employees regularly, throughout the year, and allow time for the leader to give recognition and appreciation in a timely manner for any great work being done. One-on-one’s are the prime time to connect employees to purpose, success, and the organization.

As with special projects, continuous performance management has an impact on all six talent magnets. Regular one-on-one conversations with leaders and ongoing formal reviews provide opportunities to align employees’ work to the organization’s purpose. They give leaders a chance to talk about opportunities for development and growth, teach what success looks like, and show appreciation for great work. They also are touchpoints for leaders to support overall employee wellbeing and strengthen the leader-employee relationship.

“There are managers who keep rescheduling—and you feel a bit worthless or undervalued if you’ve had your catch-up or one-on-one canceled three times.”



Allow for safe failure

Any discussion of success must also include a discussion of failure. Companies that allow employees to fail, then acknowledge and learn from that failure, drive innovation and growth. If people are scared to fail, they will be unlikely to take risks or be willing to tackle larger projects that have the ability to transform the organization. When failure is accepted as part of the innovation process, 60% more great work happens, plus 166% more innovation. When employees feel their company encourages creativity and innovation, 78% of them are committed to staying with that employer.1

The key to safe failure is failing, learning, and developing together. By tackling a challenge together with others, employees feel a sense of purpose and opportunity. Even if they fail to accomplish their objectives, they struggled to do something great together, which builds bonds stronger than any team-building activity.

A fail-safe environment is important to creating success. However, there must also be protections in place to safeguard existing value. In other words, failure shouldn’t be a way to excuse lagging performance. Instead, fail-safe environments should focus on supporting failure that occurs when employees are taking calculated risks and testing limits to find innovative solutions.

The opportunity to fail has a positive impact on an employee’s experience at work. There are significant differences in satisfaction and engagement when innovation—even if it means failure— is encouraged.

When failure is an accepted part of the innovation process, there is:

60% more great work

166% higher likelihood that employees feel like their work represents significant innovations when compared to the norm

37% increase in individual employee output

133% increased chance that the company’s revenue has increased


Make success public.

The most powerful level of success is centered around the individual employee, the great work they do, and the great work they witness others doing. By sharing stories of employee success and victories in town halls, employee communications, team meetings, and through social recognition, you spread the word about achievements your people have accomplished.

Our research shows that when news of success is spread across the organization, there is a 44% increase in feeling that the organization is successful, a 57% increase in feelings of appreciation, and employees are 82% more likely to have a strong understanding of what success looks like at their organization. By sharing successes throughout the organization, other employees can see what behaviors or actions are needed to achieve that same success. They are inspired and motivated by the work their peers have done. Public recognition also helps an individual employee connect with their peers, both on their immediate team and cross-functionally.

Be sure to share stories of success and show appreciation the right way. Be specific, and discuss what things the employee did to achieve that success. Connect the employee’s unique accomplishments to your organization’s purpose and what matters most. Be timely, and always genuine. Our past research on recognition shows recognizing victories inspires innovation, productivity, and performance. It also creates feelings of opportunity and visibility, boosts morale, and increases pride in the organization.2


Think outside the box.

As described in our Opportunities chapter, special projects enable employees to take on new challenges and find success in areas outside of their regular job scope. Our research found when an employee participates in a special project and excels, they are:

78% more likely to believe their job is preparing them for their future career

have a 70% more likely to believe they have the freedom to try new things

have a 34% more likely to believe they have the opportunity to do their best work

have a 20% more likely to have an increased sense of success

Success Builds Connections

People want to add value. They want to make a difference. They want to be part of a winning team. They want to do great work.

Great work is about making a difference people love.3 It’s about asking the right question: what would people love? People who do great work see for themselves how their work will be used by the end user. They talk to people outside their normal circle to get new ideas. They improve the mix and deliver something new that makes an impact.

To do great work, you inherently need connections. To your work. To your customer. To your peers. And to a motivating purpose. When organizations foster a culture of success the right way, employees are empowered to do great work and experience personal and shared victories. They feel more connected to each other and the organization. They feel a sense of shared accomplishment, and they want to stay.



Provide tools for success.

Make performance reviews fair and frequent.

Help employees know how to achieve.

Teach employees what success looks like.


Provide tools for success.

Make performance reviews fair and frequent.

Help employees know how to achieve.

Teach employees what success looks like.

Significant differences exist between each generation and their overall sense of success at work. Our data show only 47% of Baby Boomers and 50% of Generation X feel success at work, while 61% of Gen Z and Millennial employees say they experience workplace success.

Continuous performance management
(a combination of annual and quarterly reviews and ongoing one-on-one’s)
leads to employees being:

20% more likely to feel successful

62% more likely to feel their performance is fairly assessed at their organization

48% more likely to feel connected to their leader

50% more likely to feel in control of their career

36% more likely to trust their leader

88% more likely to feel appreciated

120% more likely to feel their organization inspires employees to work toward a collective goal

From the initial days of operation, Dropbox co-founders built a culture around a “You’re smart, figure it out” philosophy. Jon Ying, one of Dropbox’s first employees, shared an example of this approach in action.

One day, co-founder Arash Ferdowsi told Ying he didn’t want Dropbox’s “404 error” page to be so boring. “I remember you like to draw,” he said. Ferdowsi went to the drugstore downstairs, purchased a box of colored pencils for Ying, who then drew up what is now known as Dropbox’s “Psychobox 404.” The 404 error page is anything but boring—the version Ying created resembled something artist M.C. Escher might have created.

Ferdowsi didn’t stop there with the special projects for this new employee.

“If you know how to draw, you can do Web design,” he said. Ferdowsi got a copy of Photoshop for Ying who then began doing early Dropbox design work. From the very beginning, Dropbox took the principle of “You’re smart, figure it out” to heart.

From the beginning, the co-founders identified what people are good at and let them do it. They trusted their talent with important work. This approach continues to provide employees with great power and responsibility.4

The opportunity to fail has a positive impact on an employee’s experience at work. There are significant differences in satisfaction and engagement when innovation—even if it means failure—is encouraged.


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