Main image of article Professional Fulfillment Isn't About Bean Bag Chairs and Foosball Tables

What makes Apple and Google among the most desirable companies to work for today? It’s not the fancy campuses filled with perks such as bean bag chairs and foosball tables. On a professional level, it’s the fact that these companies win.

However you define “winning,” whether it’s closing a major deal, getting a promotion, or being well-regarded by your peers, everybody likes the reward of success. People are used to being positioned to win since childhood from parents, teachers, and coaches. To attract top talent—rather than struggle with retention—employers need to do the same by giving employees realistic, achievable objectives and opportunities to experience wins.

As we’ll explore in this article, it’s a common mistake to try to fix low employee satisfaction with Band-Aid efforts such as changing company culture, but you should improve engagement by addressing the root problems at the executive decision-making level.

Why Employees Burn Out

Nobody expects every initiative that comes down the pipeline to be a winner, but when employees are asked time and again to work with unrealistic budgets, timeframes, and expectations, they’re bound to become burned out and disengaged. Everybody needs to win sometimes, and the employees who win the most tend to be the most fulfilled.

The problem many companies face in today’s business world, where 50 percent of initiatives fail, is that rough patches of repeated failures become the norm. Productivity has been sliding in U.S. companies since the mid-1970s despite advancements in technology. Businesses operate in a constant state of scrambling to make hastily planned initiatives work, and they suffer the inevitable failures that follow. Their employees rarely or never get to experience wins.

Someone stuck in that environment won’t stay happy for long, and a movement has grown around trying to keep employees engaged in their work. However, instead of taking steps to increase their company’s wins, leaders chase the wrong solutions.

Companies Focus on the Symptoms, Not the Cause

What do leaders do when they notice an office full of burned-out, discouraged employees? They bring in a motivational speaker to talk about purpose or organize an employee-engagement session. However, reactive efforts only distract from the problem.

Companies spend tremendous amounts of time and money on these distractions, but the satisfaction employees get from attending a team-building workshop, eating a free lunch, or being encouraged to meditate during the workday provide only temporary morale boosts. Long-term employee fulfillment comes from finding purpose in one’s role and experiencing wins. When leaders bullshit their way through the delivery of that success, people see it clearly.

This is not to say company culture, retention, and engagement aren’t important… only that they should not be at the center of the conversation for companies struggling to successfully execute their initiatives. Failing to win is a company’s biggest problem—the central issue from which other problems stem. To fix the smaller problems, executives need to focus on gaining critical wins before investing in cover-up solutions such as employee perks.

Leaders Can Win More by Measuring Execution Readiness

Winning by properly executing ideas should be leaders’ top priority. But with so much pressure on companies to grow, it’s easy for executives to get wrapped up in chasing the next exciting business idea. How are you going to attract new customers, get more clicks, or produce better content?

The economic data shows declining growth and productivity, yet investor analysis demands growth beyond what was considered capable in the 1970s when today’s common management theories came into play. Companies are trying to accomplish growth directly in conflict with the methods by which they make decisions. To improve the 50 percent sucess rate of initiatives, the approach needs to change.

The root cause of failure—and the employee disengagement that follows—is the pursuit of unrealistic opportunities at the decision-making level. If leaders started measuring execution readiness before committing to projects, they would send fewer initiatives down the pipe that are doomed to fail. When the company wins, employees win. As a result, professional fulfillment, productivity, and employee engagement all increase.

What does it mean to measure execution readiness?

When you consider a new initiative, you need to determine whether the people you’ve hired and the processes you’ve put in place can deliver on the idea. Don’t assume a new initiative will work because a previous project succeeded; that would be relying on an incorrect bias. You need to assess each project on its own merits and unique variables. Instead of pursuing the most exciting idea, select the one most likely to succeed.

We’re living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by intelligence. People today are savvier than ever, and the days when employees would be wooed by free lunch and foosball tables have passed. Workers want real fulfillment, which only comes from the reward of success.

Position your company and employees to win by measuring your execution readiness and choosing realistic initiatives, and the fulfillment and engagement your employees want will follow.

Alex Castro is the CEO of M Corp and has helped clients deliver complex corporate strategies for the last twenty years. He finds new approaches to serving and building companies by identifying their operational vulnerabilities and correcting them.