Persistence Pays Off

It may not come quickly or easily, but success is a worthy pursuit.

We have all been told that persistence is the key to success. This message has likely been delivered using a variety of catchy phrases: Never give up. Never stop trying. Effort is its own reward. Just do it. When we think of the things we have accomplished in both our professional and personal lives, we likely find that these accomplishments have come as a result of a great deal of persistence.

Persistence has a number of dictionary definitions, including “the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people” (Merriam-Webster); “continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period” (Oxford); and “the attitude or behavior of someone who continues to do, or try to do, something in a determined way” (Macmillan). Each of these definitions focuses on the word “continue” and mixes it with either a level of difficulty or a length of time. For sure, persistence is that trait that enables you to pursue something that is hard and requires a long time to complete.

Persistence is a fundamental requirement of continuous improvement, growth, research/product development and even profit-making. History is full of examples of how persistence eventually led to great things. George Washington lost most of the battles he fought during the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln lost five elections before becoming president of the United States. Thomas Edison experienced 1,000 failures before creating the light bulb, and even Henry Ford went broke a number of times before succeeding in building an affordable motor car. Certainly, people in all occupations and companies in all industries have had to be persistent in order to become successful. 

So how do we ensure we are being persistent in our endeavors? Consider the following actions:

• Measure progress. It is critical that we keep score, and the only way to do this is to have appropriate metrics in place. Too often, we rely on gut feeling as a means of determining whether things are going well. Sometimes, we may even introduce a change but not know if we are better off, as we neglected to establish the “before” metrics that could have provided a baseline for comparison. When we establish meaningful metrics, we have an objective means of evaluating what is happening so we can plan what to do next, and whether or not our persistence is paying off.

• Seek input from others. Very few of us can do everything ourselves. We need help from others and can benefit from different points of view. Of course, we must recognize that there are both positive and negative perceptions of almost everything. These perceptions come from experience, values, current events and even personal agendas. Obviously, it is more pleasing to hear positive input, but input from multiple sources can also provide a “sanity check” on progress toward the desired outcome. Persistence does not mean unwillingness to compromise; in fact, purposeful compromise can forge a path to great results. The key is to digest all input without getting distracted and losing sight of that desired outcome.

• Stay positive. Sometimes end results must be achieved incrementally. Many small steps lead to good things, and any progress is an improvement over where you were. Although organizational inertia and perceived resistance to change can often lead to frustration, focusing on good things that are happening and keeping the desired end result in mind will help us maintain a positive attitude.

• Maintain focus by making the desired outcome visible to all. It is important that everyone is made aware of and frequently reminded about the desired outcome. This, in itself, is a form of persistence. Focus can be maintained through the use of a “tickler file” kept in plain sight, or by regular reminders on phones or computers. Charts, graphs and tables kept in central locations will 
also aid in maintaining focus. It is so easy to get “unfocused” due to day-to-day activities and firefighting. As I’ve said before, to be effective, focus needs to be limited in scope. We can’t do everything at once, so focusing on the really important things means being willing to delay or even reject good ideas that are not as critical. This can be a challenge for those who thrive on juggling many things, but they must learn that doing a little bit of everything usually results in doing a lot of nothing.