What does success mean to you?

You will be successful in everything - ooops!

In this post, I’m doggedly continuing my pursuit to explore the idea of career success.

We started with a simple binary distinction: objective success versus subjective success. We realised that this was somewhat crude and that a bit more subtlety might be useful.

In the previous post, we added an extra dimension about how you might measure success (self-referent versus other-referent comparison).

Now it’s time to take things multidimensional!

Researchers in Belgium interviewed a number managers using a laddering technique to understand how they conceptualised career success. Having gathered the ideas, they grouped them on a set of axes

  • Affect–Achievement: The Affect end of this axis stands for ‘feelings and perceptions people may have had throughout their careers that cause them to evaluate their career success as high or low’. The Achievement end refers to ‘factual accomplishments characteristic of peoples’ careers that cause them to evaluate their career success as high or low’. This seems to be a different way of saying subjective versus objective.
  • Intra-personal–Inter-personal: The Intra-personal end focuses on aspects of someone’s ‘internal world that would cause him or her to evaluate career success as high or low’. The Inter-personal end focuses on ‘the relationships with the outside world career actors engage in — validations of their careers that take place outside their self that cause them to evaluate their own career success as high or low’. Again, this seems to be similar to the self-referent versus other-referent dimension. However, the inter-personal side also includes an awareness of other people’s evaluations of your success.

So far this hasn’t taken us much further than we have gone already.

What they did next was to plot the managers responses on this grid and see how ideas clustered together. This enabled them to come up with nine dimensions of career success distributed over four quadrants.

Quadrant I — Inter-personal achievement

  • Performance — achieving verifiable results and meeting set goals.
  • Advancement — progressing and growing in both level of responsibility and experience.
  • Contribution (factual) — contributing something tangible to an organisation.

Quadrant II — Intra-personal achievement

  • Self-development — reaching your full potential through meeting challenges and learning.  (This has sub-domains of personal goal attainment, continuous learning, self-expression and career self-management.)
  • Creativity — producing something innovative and extraordinary.

Quadrant III — Intra-personal affect

  • Security — being able to meet your financial needs and having stability.
  • Satisfaction — happiness in the family and work domain. (This has sub-domains of work-life balance, achievement satisfaction and independence.)

Quadrant IV — Inter-personal affect

  • Recognition — being adequately rewarded and appreciated for your efforts and abilities.
  • Cooperation — working well with peers, superiors, subordinates and clients.
  • Contribution (perceived) — serving society through work in an ethical way.

So what?

We’ve managed to find a model which expands our ideas of career success so that we are no longer just talking about pay and job satisfaction. How does that help?

One thing I get from my theoretical explorations is more sophisticated questions to ask my clients and to get my clients to ask themselves.

Based on the idea stimulated by Jill’s comment on the previous post, I’ve started to make a list of ‘success questions’. These are questions, some of which are based on this model, that someone can ask themselves in order to work out what success means for them individually.

I’m going to be posting these questions on Twitter with the hashtag #successquestions. Please join in or add your suggestions here. In the meantime here are a few questions for you to think about.

  • Can you feel successful if people you value don’t think you are successful?
  • Do you gain your main sense of career success in any particular quadrant?
  • Is there anything missing from the above list that is important to your idea of career success?

Further reading

, , ,

  1. #1 by Jim Bright on 5 April 2011 - 12:05

    Strikes me you are venturing into the territory of work values here. You might want to check out me old mucca Robert Pryor’s Work Aspects Preference Scale, based on his research in Pryor (1979) Vocational Guidance Quarterly Pryor (1987) Journal of Applied Psychology. Off the top of my head these values (there are 13) include: Independence, Co-workers, Self Development, Creativity, Money, Management, Lifestyle, Detachment, Surroundings, Altruism, Security, Physical Activity, Prestige.

    Some of the above clearly map directly onto the dimensions/factors you’ve identified: eg recognition=prestige, money, co-workers
    cooperation – co-workers, management
    contribution – altruism
    security – security

    My other observation is that some of the factors you mention appear to be causes and others consequences, i.e. satisfaction is generally related/caused by other factors (indeed almost all of those listed have somewhere or other been implicated in “satisfaction’)

    Also don’t quite get why “performance” in Quad 1 is not related or sometimes synonymous with “creativity” in Quad 2 – surely creating something original might also be achieving a “verifiable” result.

    Furthermore, creativity here appears to be located intra-personally. This is clearly not always the case,

    So I guess I am not sure whether these dimensions are independent. What did the authors say – are these supposed to be orthogonal or not? What type of factor rotation did they use? Obliminal?

    Interesting that these authors have identified just about all of the factors Pryor identified over 20 years earlier – is he referenced?

    Interesting post as always David, thanks!

    • #2 by David Winter on 14 April 2011 - 12:30


      I think that any discussion of career success which includes subjective criteria will stray into the area of career values. They don’t reference Pryor in the paper although they do relate their model to other career success/satisfaction frameworks including Schein’s career anchors. I guess people can arrive at a similar destination through different routes.

      I’m not sure I fully understand your point about causes/consequences. Perhaps it stems from the fact that some of these terms should have the phrase ‘increasing opportunities for…’ in front of them.

      The creativity ambiguity is probably just a terminological thing. I think here creativity is being used a shorthand for ‘being able to do things that I personally would define as innovative and extraordinary’. You’re absolutely right that in some work settings, creative output would be an objective performance measure.

      As far as the methodology goes. They got the constructs from the managers and then had 30 career ‘experts’ to independently categorise them. They then did an ‘ordinal MDS analysis’ of the categorisations.

  2. #3 by Jill Elswick on 7 April 2011 - 19:13

    This is great info, David. I will download the study. May print out those quadrants and post them to my wall to ponder. Also, look forward to an aggregated list of #successquestions, if you’re doing that again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: