How to Reach Your Greatest Potential at Work

The last few months, I have been itching to discover a new way of approaching work – how to think and feel about work as an entity — similar to the moment at university when a professor alters the way you see the world. Luckily, I had a shift in my perspective and I have Shawn Achor to thank for that.

[bctt tweet=”A revelation rings true on every page: work cannot be done alone. ” username=”reflektive”]

I recently had the pleasure of reading Achor’s latest book Big Potential, which hits shelves January 30. In Big Potential, Achor not only challenges traditional views of  success, but highlights all the ways that we have been measuring the idea of success wrong. While Achor unveils examples from education, to everyday life, the areas that struck me as profound were those related to workplaces.

A revelation rings true on every page: Work cannot be done alone.

Even when referencing some of the greatest minds – the inventors, thinkers, visionaries – other people were involved in various capacities and this realization led me to the awakening that maybe, performance management is undergoing a revolution because it too has measured work incorrectly.

How Performance Measurement Falls Short

Work has been incorrectly measured by only measuring an individual’s measurable outcomes and not the big potential or big impact they have bestowed upon their colleagues or direct reports. Large indicators of happiness (1,2) at work are tied to the connection and inspiration people have with their colleagues and managers. So, when we measure someone’s work, we need to evaluate the context of their impact, to better understand and exacerbate their potential across an organization.

For example, Mary helps her colleagues by sending them summaries of business books she reads every month and by encouraging them to develop their strengths. Mary though isn’t as great as public speaking, but Jim, her colleague is. On a project Mary was able to summarize the data needed to present, while Jim nailed the presentation.

If Mary is only measured on presentation skills and not her ability to catalyze the process through her unique skill set– she will be discouraged and eventually leave. When Mary leaves, Jim isn’t as strong, and the team misses the camaraderie that Mary often brought.

Work is more complex than a single output – and while this example is simplified, it highlights that organizations are like living organisms, each with a distinct function for thriving, and when we look at people through a microscopic lens, it often leads to missing the impact and the large potential of a group.

Work is more complex than a single output and organizations are like living organisms.

What the Data Tells Us

Laszlo Bock’s famous experiment, Project Aristotle (3), highlights this fact – after years of studying high-performing teams at Google, they discovered it was not a simple skill or personal attribute of a person that led to increased team performance, but rather the social norms, psychological safety being one of the most influential. It really came down to, did the team create a “safe space for you to take risks.”

The best work was work that was done on teams that trusted and connected with each other.

So, if I could posit an idea for the future of performance management, it would be this: What if we measured the outcome of an employee’s impact on their team, not just their individual measurable outcomes? Behaviors can be measured, tracked, and correlated to business success.

If we looked at the science of team success – we might impact performance more than we ever thought possible.

[bctt tweet=”What if we measured the outcome of an employee’s impact by their team?” username=”reflektive”]


  1. Smit, T.w., et al. (2013). Optimism and pessimism in social context: An interpersonal perspective on resilience and risk. Journal of Research in Personality 47: 553-562.
  2. Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). “Investing in Strengths.” In Positive Organizational Scholarship, edited by Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J. E., & Quinn, R.E., 111-121. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler; Connelly, J. (2002). All together now. Gallup Management Journal 2 (1): 13-18.