Success is often Determined not by How You Work, but by the Environment in Which You Work

Only when the work environment is conducive to growth, development and achievement can an evolution to your success be possible

This past week an international team of scientists announced a discovery that provides the most concrete evidence yet to validate Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution that he propagated in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin Darwinargued (as did many other scientists of his time) that a constantly changing environment triggers evolution of a species whereas an unchanging, stagnant environment produces an evolutionary dead-end.

The scientists drew this contemporary conclusion after discovering a 2.3 billion-year-old (almost half the age of the earth) fossil-bearing rock buried deep in a seabed off South America. (Don’t ask me how they found the goddamn thing!) The microorganism fossils discovered in this rock were exactly the same structure as microorganisms living in deep seabeds today. The significance of this scientific “aha” is that, when microorganisms are stuck in an unchanging environment, they will not evolve even when given billions of years to do so.

So what’s the lesson to be learned here? What does Darwin’s theory of evolution have to do with achieving success in business? Even though Darwin never lectured at the Harvard School of Business, his theory does have relevance to evolving success.

For those who have the desire to build a successful career, it is important for them to be in an environment that not only allows but also triggers their evolution. If they are not in such an environment, then they have about as much chance as those microorganisms to advance and evolve. Zero.

The first question for you to raise, then, is this: Am I in a job and working for a company that has an environment that allows and encourages potential and opportunity for personal growth and development? If the answer is no, then you better get out from under that rock or 2.3 billion years from now you will be doing the same thing you are now and still looking for success.

But how does one assess their environment to determine if success is even possible? That’s a good question and the only way to really find the answer is to constantly evaluate the cultural environment, viability and potential of the company for which you work. Unfortunately, the answers will not be found in the past or even current performance and reputation of the company, but only by exploring and understanding the very fundamentals of how the company is managed and led. Even if the company has achieved success in the past, if it now seems to be going down the wrong path, then you should consider seeking your own path.


The good news is that employees themselves are in the best position to determine the future direction of the company and the potential opportunity for their own career growth. The key is to be observant and brutally honest about what is seen and experienced in the workplace.

The cultural environment of a company starts and ends with the attitude and philosophy of management. What type of organizational culture is management seeking to build? Do they even care about creating a positive culture? Or is it something to which only lip service is given? The answers to these questions will go a long way toward helping you determine the security of your employment and the potential for your future success.

Obviously, the place to start is to determine if the management of a company is ethical. The use of the term “ethical” in this case is not about lying, cheating and stealing. If that is the modus operandi of management then the answer is simple. For the purposes of this piece, ethics refers to the attitude and operating philosophy of management. Do they speak with forked-tongue? Do they talk the talk of good culture, but operate in a closed, self-serving fashion?

A good example of management lacking sound ethics is a management group that incessantly talks about how important the employees are to the success of the company, but when black clouds are sighted on the horizon, the first actions of management are to “downsize” and “outsource.” When challenges arise, managers lacking true ethics quickly herd unsuspecting employees to the twin altars of downsizing and outsourcing, where they are sacrificed to the pagan gods of illusory profits.

If you work for a company where management holds the belief that costs will be reduced and profits increased when important functions (and the people doing them) are outsourced to those with no knowledge of the company and with no concern for its future or the future of its people, then it is reasonable to question the environment for change and growth.

Let’s be honest and acknowledge that there are no requirements for management to be open and all-inclusive in their actions and most companies are not that way. But, that does not make it right or, for that matter, the smart way to develop long-term success. And, such an attitude does not bode well for your evolution.

Those who build business cultures that generate employee job security and opportunity are those who do the right things that are not required to be done; this is the essence of ethical leadership. They rise above average, commonplace leadershipBusinessEnvironment because they know that building healthy organizational culture is crucial to the success of the company and to their own future. That is the type of company that people not only feel comfortable working for, but more importantly, one in which they can see their careers evolve and thrive.

Of course, it is possible climb the corporate ladder working for a company that does not create an environment that encourages and stimulates change – many do – but to do so, an individual must be willing to sell their soul to this type of soul-less leadership. That may be okay for a while, but you really have to ask yourself if you want to live your life that way. And, in all likelihood, your future and that of your company will be put at risk.

Here are a few tips and telltale signs to use to determine if you work in an environment that will allow you to grow, evolve and be successful.

Communication – Is the management of the organization open and honest in their communication with all employees? Is information about the company considered the exclusive purview of management? Is information provided on a regular and reliable basis? Are employees constantly caught off guard by the actions of management? Is the dreaded rumor mill the primary source of information for employees?

Trust – Do management actions build an atmosphere of trust? Are management actions – especially as it applies to employees – honest, constant and consistent? Can management pronouncements be taken at face value or do employees feel they have to question and read between the lines to determine what they really mean? Are employees comfortable trusting their future to the actions and interests of management?

Parallel Interests – Do employees believe that management makes an honest effort to align the interests of the company with those of its employees? If the company is successful, do the employees believe they will share in the success their efforts helped to create? Is the success of the organization the success of all or is it management that takes both the credit and the spoils for any success?

Power Sharing – Is power concentrated rather than shared? Is the management group so insecure and controlling that they must actually define themselves as the “leadership team?” Are employees given the responsibility for tasks, but not the tools or authority to achieve them? Do employees come to feel that what they do – unless they fail – is not recognized by management and that they are really powerless to make a difference?

Employee Value – Does management constantly talk about how important employees are but treats them only as pawns? Are employees the last to know and the first to be blamed, downsized or outsourced? Does management speak of respect, but take actions that often denigrate the value and importance of the employee?

And The Moral of the Story …

If you are serious about your future and success, it is incumbent upon you to take control of your future and make sure you are working in an environment that will allow you and your talents to evolve. There is no security in allowing others to control your future. Taking control of your future starts by putting yourself in a workplace that gives you the opportunity to evolve into the success you seek. And that means making a choice about the roads before you.

If you find yourself working for a company with a stagnant or closed environment – unlike our little friends the microorganisms locked in a rock for billions of years – you need to recognize you are in the wrong place. You have two choices. You can give up and give in and just hide under a rock. Or you can proactively search out the type of  environment that will allow you to evolve and be successful. Just remember success is not always determined by how you work but where you work.

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