Many students, and many employees, believe they should be rewarded based on their effort, and that somehow “those in charge” should know what that level of effort has been. That is particularly true when the results are not excellent. Of course, level of effort is not a good indicator of results, and it is nearly impossible, in any case, to estimate level of effort. Therefore, we usually reward results and/or amount of time spent doing tasks.
In one of my recent finance classes, a student who believed effort should be graded raised three points that seemed important (in bold) and my responses (in plain type).
1. Hard work is not enough to be successful. Being smart is more important.
- People who are successful in organizations are those who think about what the organization needs—what it takes for the organization to be successful. Once they have figured that out, they can “work hard,” but they also work smart because they have a good idea about what they must do to accomplish the overall aims of the organization.
- Team members in an organization who have thought about their place in the organization must express, in clear and concise ways, what they are going to do for that organization, and need to take both ownership of and credit for what has been done. Bosses don’t know what you’ve done if you hide it or if you allow others to take credit for it. If you are responsible for something, you need to make people aware of what you’ve done.
2. Numbers do not tell the tale of firms. Executives ignore the numbers and instead focus on passion and strategies.
- Numbers (history) do not tell the story of the company. The past is a guide to the future, but only if the past and future are the same do the numbers tell the whole story.
- Part of the reason that managers are successful is that they make things better. Simply repeating the past does not make things better. As an example, if you were forecasting the future of China based on the numbers of 1985, you would forecast a country that was large, with a centralized government and a large population; limited capitalism; and a view of the world that was (a bit) insular. The China of today is vastly different than that because China’s leadership recognized that change in the direction they were headed was a good thing, and they instituted change.
- To say that executives ignore numbers and focus on passion and strategies really discredits those executives. They are and must be interested in the numbers. But they recognize that the history is in the past. The future is what will make the company better (or worse). History is done. The future is what investors are buying.
- Consider the changes that have occurred at Apple, which was, a few years ago, a very sick company with a $6 stock. It now has an unprecedented market capitalization. That happened because of the vision of its leaders and the change in their world view and strategies.
- Steve Jobs cared about numbers, but he recognized that the future of Apple depended not on its past but on what it did in the future. The past was useful because it helped him build a better future. And while he built that future, he continued to eye the numbers.
3. Presentation skills are extremely important
- The world is a cruel place, and part of that cruelty is its inability to have the patience to take the time to question those who have ideas that they have not expressed. That cruelty is necessary—in the business world it is expensive to wait for everyone to have his or her say if they are reticent to have that say. The cost of waiting for someone to finally form an idea is very high—opportunities are fleeting.
- That is why people who do express their good ideas do succeed.
In my experience, the business world contains five different types of people:
- The successful person: The person who knows and is able to tell what will be most successful. Most of us are not born with either knowledge or the ability to tell. Most of us can learn both.
- The successful actor: The person who does not know, but is able to find and manage people who do know, will succeed by absorbing ideas from the team. That person then presents the team ideas as his or her own, and succeeds with other people’s work—and becomes an actor who reads other people’s scripts. The “actor” will only remain successful by truly understanding the script, its assumptions, and how it was written.
- The fake: The person who does not know but is able to fake knowledge and communicate well will succeed for a while until he or she is found out. The fall will be hard and permanent.
- The supporter: People who know, but cannot communicate, will ultimately not succeed to their satisfactions unless they change—they will be stuck in support jobs forever, giving their ideas to the successful person or the successful actor, and many will do that, but if they really want to succeed they will learn to communicate and become a successful person.
- The lost: The person who does not know and cannot tell will fail.
We become educated to learn how to solve life’s problems. That is important. But it is also important, if you want to succeed, to be able to communicate your solutions to life’s problems to others. If you can do that, you will be the success you want to be. If you cannot, you can still be valuable, but you may not realize your full potential. The choice is yours.