Educators know that establishing success criteria is important for learning. Students have to understand the expectations so that they can take responsibility for meeting them. We’re all students of life. Establishing success criteria in the workplace and our personal lives can help us recognize when we have reached our goals so that we can pat ourselves on the back.
Why Is it Important to Define Success Criteria?
In the classroom, establishing success criteria can help students learn without bogging them down with an overwhelming process or too much information. Properly defined success criteria:
- Enhances focus
- Gives opportunities to improve understanding
- Allows people to identify their own achievements
- Increases awareness of where challenges lie
- Opens a pathway for improvement
- Lets individuals monitor their development
In other words, recognizing the standards that you’ve created for your success allows you to understand when you’re meeting them, when you’re not and what you can do to change outcomes.
Let’s say that when people ask what you want to do for a living, you answer, “Be successful.” You would leave a lot of people wondering exactly what you do. They would probably want to know more details.
Those details are your personal success criteria. They may include:
- A financial goal
- A certain job title
- The way that you want to behave (i.e., with integrity, generosity and compassion)
- The number of times that you travel every year
- The way that you feel
Should Success Criteria Be Measurable?
When discussing success in the workplace, the subject of project success criteria often comes up. The definition of project success criteria is the benchmarks by which the endeavor will be assessed to determine whether it has been fruitful.
In this type of setting, being able to measure the success criteria is crucial. In many cases, shareholders want a quantifiable way to discern whether the project was effective.
In business organizations, people don’t usually document failure. Thinking about what failure could look like may drag down a project before it begins. On the other hand, being able to envision success can improve morale from the beginning.
Moreover, if you haven’t established success criteria, you might fall into failure mode when things aren’t going well. Life is often fraught with challenges. Having to navigate obstacles doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Hurdles can serve as stumbling blocks, or they can help you grow.
However, if you haven’t defined what success looks like, you might interpret challenges as failures before you give yourself a chance to push past them.
Therefore, your success criteria examples need to be measurable enough for you to recognize when you’ve achieved them. However, we’re only human; some standards may be subjective. They need to be customized to your needs, values and desires so that you can acknowledge your success.
But if you spend your life measuring, analyzing and assessing your success standards, you might miss out on the opportunity to truly live. You might be ecstatic when you reach one measurable goal. However, you can be devastated when another goal remains outside of your reach.
To avoid experiencing this emotional roller coaster, you need to have various success criteria. Some can be outcome-based and measurable. However, the deeper indicators of success may be harder to evaluate. Those might be the most important factors, though.
Outcome-Based Success Criteria
Many people gauge success by a certain outcome. These success criteria examples are more measurable than process-based standards. They usually represent the results of reaching a specific goal.
One of the most commonly used standards for success is money. Some argue that money is the measure of everything in our society.
However, this wasn’t always the case. Historically, cultures have not judged their society’s well-being through economic measures. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the American government and businesspeople began to define success as a person’s ability to earn a decent income.
Because of this shift, people’s well-being wasn’t measured by factors such as health or life expectancy. Instead, it became gauged by an individual’s ability to contribute to the nation’s economy or at least meet its standards.
The idea of progress was based on the concept of modernizing society through a shift from the traditional viewpoint. In other words, it was the philosophy that people can become more productive, doing things better and faster than they had previously done.
Are There Non-Economic Measures of Success?
But social revolutions have pushed for progress in areas other than economics. Some philosophers and policymakers claim that progress should cover:
- The arts
- Rules and regulations
- Reduction of inequality
If you equate progress with success, then you could argue that success should cover similar categories. And Americans do have other quantifiable categories by which to measure their success, including those that we discuss below.
Before reading ahead, consider pulling out a paper and something to write with. As we move through the outcome-based success criteria examples, reflect on the standards that are important in your life.
Once you have a list of your personal criteria, you can track and measure it.
Average Hours Worked per Week
Even though you might think that most people quantify success by their careers, most people actually want to work less. They would see themselves as more successful if they were able to get just as much done in less time.
This is a departure from the message that society teaches most people, which is to take advantage of conveniences and technology to move faster and do more. We live in a society that prizes hard work.
Although working 60-hour weeks may seem grueling, it also sounds impressive. If you are dedicated to your career and spend much of your time producing great work, you might consider yourself successful.
However, in a survey of 2,000 Americans, only 21 percent said that spending their time working would indicate that they had “made it.” In contrast, 28 percent said that they would feel successful if they could enjoy time with friends and family. Twenty-three percent indicated that they would feel like they had “made it” if they could spend their time exploring.
Working to help others might be a different story, though. In the survey, 11 percent said that they would feel like they had made it if they were helping people in need.
What kind of work would you need to do to feel successful? You might want to journal about the factors that are important for you, such as:
- Job title
- Roles and responsibilities within your job
- Opportunities for learning
- Opportunities for leadership
- Work in a specific industry
- Commute time
- Number of hours worked
Amount of Vacation Taken Each Year
Work-life balance and leisure are important indicators of success for most people. If you ask someone why they want to make a lot of money, they’ll probably tell you that it’s because they want to be able to fulfill their desires.
You work so that you can buy things that you enjoy. You probably also work so that you can make the most of your free time by doing activities that make you happy.
In the survey that we referred to above, many respondents said that they would want their amount of freedom and autonomy to increase. About 4 percent revealed that they would prefer less responsibility.
Getting away from it all seems to be a prominent measure of success. What does that mean for you?
You might want to consider writing a list of how you’d like to spend your free time. This might include:
- What you do before or after work
- The activities that you do on the weekends
- Travel destinations you’d like to visit each year
- How many vacations you’d prefer to take every year
Many people consider education to be a standard for success. While it’s true that college graduates get better jobs and earn more money, a degree shouldn’t be a measure of success for everyone.
You might want to add learning targets to your criteria. This is one way that teachers assess the success of their students’ progress.
A good teacher doesn’t churn out students that earn degrees. A good teacher helps students gain a working understanding of the material.
Therefore, education should really be gauged by what the student learned. Although our society values degrees as indicators of what you have learned, it is not always a valid measure.
You can breeze through college and “get by” without learning much. On the other hand, you can immerse yourself in an apprenticeship or entry-level job and gain wisdom that helps you open more doors, overcome obstacles and accomplish your goals.
If education is important to you, you may want to consider what kind of education can help you succeed. When you embrace the idea that learning goes beyond a diploma, you can set yourself up to gain an education in just about every environment, increasing the likelihood that you’ll feel successful.
Friends and Family
In the survey referenced above, most Americans said that they would feel successful with an average of two kids and four best friends.
Humans are wired for connection. Our need to interact positively with others is as strong as our basic survival requirements, such as food, water and shelter.
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby first developed attachment theory. He said that humans have an inherent need to create strong attachments. It starts with helpless infants that require attachment from their caregivers in order to survive. The attachment style that you develop from your interactions with your caregivers plays a large role in dictating your behaviors and patterns as an adult.
Research indicates that having meaningful, secure personal relationships is linked to feeling successful. There are many reasons for this.
The relationships that you have with your closest friends and family mirror those that you have with peers and colleagues. Improving your relationships has been shown to increase personal well-being. Developing strong, trusting attachments with people makes you more confident to take independent steps and exert your autonomy.
You can’t be successful in a cave. Or perhaps you can, but you probably won’t leave a legacy or be able to enhance the community, which are two examples of success criteria.
Therefore, it’s helpful to place importance on your relationships when defining your success. However, the number doesn’t really count. When it comes to relationships, quality is more important than quantity.
Having people to rely on when you need support is crucial. Developing a core network of confidantes can help you achieve this. But don’t get too concerned about the number of people who are in your social or family circle. Whatever works for you is the magic number.
Home, Property and Asset Value
Would you rather feel fulfilled but have nothing to show for it or have the expensive house and car but feel lonely and miserable? Many of us think that we want material possessions as indicators of our success. At some point, however, we might realize that those external factors aren’t bringing us happiness.
Your external measures of success need to match the internal criteria. Below, we go into more detail about process-based success and emotion-based success.
The feeling of success is ultimately a greater reward than the things that you can purchase because of your success. However, those concepts go hand in hand.
You may not feel the ease and freedom that you equate with success if you don’t have a comfortable space to live or a reliable car that allows you to get to work or head off for a weekend vacation. On the other hand, purchasing those items won’t necessarily fulfill you if you aren’t working on having other needs met, such as working in a career that aligns with your passion or nurturing a romantic relationship.
Americans say that they would own homes worth just about $500,000 and cars worth approximately $41,000 if they were successful. But they don’t necessarily indicate that buying those items would create a feeling of success. However, if they experienced financial success, they would want to live more comfortably, with enhanced conveniences and nice things.
Process-Based Success Criteria
One of the biggest problems with outcome-based goals is that you can become fixated on the results and ignore the process. If you work hard but don’t achieve your goals, will you have felt as though you succeeded? Will you be able to congratulate yourself on your dedication and perseverance?
An easy-to-understand example of this is the goal of losing weight. If you will only be happy when you lose 20 pounds, what happens if you plateau after losing 15? What if you’re exercising regularly and in the best health of your life? You may not celebrate your wins because you’re obsessed with the number on the scale.
Setting process-based goals allows you to grow toward your bigger objectives. Process-based success criteria let you work your goals into your journey so that you can hit your milestones along the way to your big dreams.
Many experts say that all successful people set goals. However, those goals don’t have to be the outcome at the end of the tunnel. If you set an objective to earn $500,000 a year by the time you turn 35, you might feel completely disappointed if you’re still working up to that salary on your 35th birthday.
The key to setting goals is to stagger them so that you can reward yourself as you go. You might set small outcome-based goals that give you something workable to strive for.
However, setting processed-based goals or standards to work toward can help you live according to your values and pat yourself on the back for being the kind of person that you would respect.
Focus on the Process to Ensure Success
Outcome-based success is not guaranteed. You can set a goal to earn a certain income and work as hard as you can to achieve it. However, there may be variables outside of your control.
When you focus on process-based success criteria, you are in the driver’s seat. You can control the intentions that you set and make choices to take the actions that are necessary to meet them.
Here’s an example when it comes to weight loss. Sure, you’re hoping to lose 20 pounds. Where do you start?
You can set a goal to lose one pound. That’s still based on a specific outcome, though.
What if you set your initial goal to go to the gym three times next week? Unless your car breaks down or a hurricane hits, you’ll likely be able to meet that goal as long as you schedule your time right and keep up your motivation.
In other words, that goal is completely within your control. Your actions determine your success. If you go to the gym on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you’ll feel successful before the week is even over.
This experience could tempt you to set an outcome goal the following week. Perhaps you’re confident that going to the gym three times a week will allow you to lose 2 pounds in seven days.
But other factors can still interfere with that goal and set you up for failure. If you don’t eat well all week, you could prevent the pounds from shedding. Being stressed out at work might make you sleep poorly and limit your weight loss.
If you don’t reach your outcome-based goal, you may attribute it to something that you did or failed to do. In fact, outcome-based goals are difficult to predict, and they’re not always consistent.
Concentrating on the process instead of results can:
- Allow you to maintain forward momentum
- Prevent frustration
- Help you stay focused
- Put your success within your control
- Let you avoid the emotional roller coaster
Recognize the Limitations of Time
It’s easy to get caught up in outcome-based goals because they promise measurable success. You can also hope to reach your goals in a fast amount of time.
Focusing on the process can be motivating, but it can be tedious. Some processes take longer than others to bring about results.
This is an idea that is perpetuated in our culture. To expand on the weight-loss theme, most people would be more excited by the idea of losing 15 pounds in three weeks than shedding 1 pound a week for 15 weeks. We want results, and we want them now.
In many cases, we get so excited about achieving successful outcomes quickly that we don’t realize that we have to build the foundations to maintain our success. We’ve all heard the stories of the overnight millionaire that didn’t know how to manage the money and ended up losing everything.
Sustained success comes from establishing a successful process. Building the groundwork to support your success can take time.
Think about the musician who wants to book high-paying gigs. One way to command higher pay is to improve their skills. But you can’t become a musical genius in a few days.
Developing your talents, increasing your knowledge base and building relationships can help you achieve your long-term goals. However, going through the process of growing those abilities can take months or even years. Making sure that you set goals that keep you aligned with the process can help you stay on track.
Doing this keeps you satisfied on your journey. It can also make you more likely to achieve the outcome-based goals that you set for yourself. You just have to be patient with the process.
Some keys to developing process-based success criteria include:
- Releasing emotions from your results
- Focusing on your behavior instead of outcomes or the behavior of others
- Building consistent daily habits
- Rewarding yourself every time that you follow the process
If you have set up an outcome-based goal that relies on a particular process, wait an appropriate length of time before measuring it. You have to give yourself a chance to work toward what you want before you determine whether the process is effective.
Emotion-Based Success Criteria
Whether or not you can measure your success standards, they are probably linked to an emotion that you want to feel. For example, you might want to pad your bank account so that you feel financial freedom. With that independence, you also enjoy:
- Less stress
- Less worry
- More security
If one of your success goals is to further your education, you may have strong ties to emotions such as:
- Gaining an understanding of the world
- Experiencing less uncertainty
Almost all of these emotions boil down to helping you feel less fear or discomfort and getting more enjoyment out of life.
WorkLifeBalance.com claims that these feelings can be identified as achievement and enjoyment. If someone were to ask you what your purpose was for the day, you might not know exactly what you wanted to achieve. However, you would probably want to accomplish something and enjoy the process.
Therefore, when you’re thinking about your success criteria, you might want to consider the way that each item will make you feel.
This not only allows you to gauge when you’ve hit your mark, but it also opens the door for other opportunities to achieve success. For example, let’s say that you’ve committed to earning a bachelor’s degree. You’ll feel successful when you graduate.
Now, let’s dissect what will make you feel successful about having that diploma in your hand. Maybe the answers are something like this:
- I’ll feel like I followed a desire to its completion.
- I’ll feel like others look up to me.
- I’ll be more confident looking for a job.
But what if something interferes with your ability to earn that degree? Perhaps you experience financial hardship and can’t afford to take classes anymore. After you leave college, you start working as a football coach for young children.
You develop skills in leadership, mentoring and working with a team, which you can add on your resume to boost your confidence if you have to seek a job in the future. You have a group of youngsters that look up to you. You accomplish your goal of providing for yourself financially.
Your goal may have changed, but you still satisfied it. Would you say that you’re a failure?
There is no easy answer to this question. Some people will want to achieve the goal of earning a specific degree. However, others will feel successful by the enjoyment and accomplishment that they’ve gotten from the new path. You might even feel more successful because you overcame an obstacle, which is a process-based success criterion.
By measuring success in multiple ways, you can reframe your circumstances and your mindset so that you feel like you’ve lived a meaningful life.
In the end, isn’t that the aim of achieving success? You can’t take your bank account, big house and nice car with you when you’ve passed.
However, you can leave a legacy by developing strong relationships and bringing new ideas to the world. If you can look back and know that you’ve lived with integrity and enjoyed every moment, wouldn’t you say that you were successful?