In my work with senior executives, a key question that I ask is, “What are you trying to accomplish: success or significance?” It’s a more difficult question than it seems on the surface.

The “success to significance” journey originated with Bob Buford, founder of the Halftime organization.

Most leaders’ performance is measured on success metrics – net profits, market share, sales growth, etc. These tangible targets are important and desired outcomes for businesses and their leaders. Profits help their enterprise remain viable.

AND, what are the logical consequences of leaders being held accountable only for success metrics? The result is a leadership population (around the globe) that is exclusively focused on success; little else matters in their world.

Often leaders will respond to my question with, “What do you mean, significance?” I try to get them to tell me what significance is, to them. I facilitate a conversation about their personal purpose and about their values. I ask whether the work they do each day enables them to live that purpose & those values – or not.

I ask them to describe how they and their business contribute to the well-being of their company’s key players: employees, of stakeholders, of customers, and of the communities where they do business. I help leaders understand that profits are not “ends” in themselves; they are a “means” to make a positive difference to their key players.

I ask leaders if they’d be satisfied, today, with their current legacy: “Would you rather to be known for the profits you create or the social good you generate?”

Many – not all – of the leaders I coach make this shift to significance.

Significance Requires Thinking “Outside The Lines”

Managing for significance means leaders must buck established trends. They must accept that standard practices hold them to success metrics, so, in addition to their success expectations, they create significance metrics.

There are three key steps to creating an organization that equally values & delivers success and significance. Your organization likely already has success metrics in place; we’ll focus on creating significance metrics.

  1. Define a Significance Vision
    You must first create a clearly defined vision for significance. A vision statement is a description of your organization’s desired future state. Your vision sets a target for how your company will operate when the desired state is fully acted upon. A sample significance vision might be “our company is the leader in creating social benefit in our county.”
  2. Create Significance Metrics
    With your vision in place, set specific goals and standards that, when accomplished, will create observable traction towards increasing significance. Sample metrics might include volunteering at least 1,000 person-hours to three specific non-profit organizations in your community, building at least two homes for Habitat for Humanity, or granting five $2,000 college scholarships to needy and deserving students.
  3. Celebrate Significance Accomplishments
    Once metrics are in place, regularly celebrate both effort towards goals AND goal accomplishment. Leaders must make a BIG DEAL out of this new significance emphasis. Share success stories in both town hall meetings and in newsletters. Look at celebrating these accomplishments as a proactive campaign for significance.

Significance metrics must be held as equally valuable to success metrics. The most effective leaders hold all staff accountable for both.

What does significance mean to you? Does your company have “significance metrics”? Share your insights in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarMike Brown says


    I like your thoughtful post… As leaders, we must focus on the long-term, which means not just profits today…

    Trees do not grow to the sky – and every business will peak…. When that happens – we must have something for our team to fall back on… For example – if we reward people only on beating goal – things will be great when things are going up, but what happens when things peak – or start going down…

    There must be a higher purpose in our jobs… It could be quality, customer-focus, etc… In the end, this will help drive “raving fans” as customers and repeat business – and in the end will bring in more profits…


    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your insights, Mike – higher purpose is exactly what this post is about. With clarity of purpose beyond profits, a focus on significance can increase employees’ performance higher while giving them meaningful opportunities to serve others.