Achievement or Affiliation: What matters most?

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Achievement is the desire to accomplish difficult tasks and to meet standards of excellence while affiliation, on the other hand, is the desire to link with others and have harmonious and satisfying relationships. But there are some conflicting views regarding both the terms in the corporate world. Some people say that achievements matter more for being successful in life while others consider affiliations to be more important.

According to Mr Daniel Gulati of HBR Blog Network:

“One should be proud of his accomplishments not affiliations. If a person graduated from any University (regardless of whether it is leading or not) becomes successful in his goals and has the capability. It should be valued, not his affiliations.”

Instead of just resume-gardening, distinguishing ourselves through real, tangible accomplishments shows the world what we’ve actually done while de-emphasising who accepted us into their organisation.”

Following are the two points that Daniel Gulati insists on while arguing that prestige matters less than ever:

1) Prestigious companies have suffered a lot due to the financial crisis. The reputations of some of the world’s largest corporations and individuals got tarnished and anyone showing their affiliation with them is losing his/her own credibility as well.

2) Social media is unveiling corporations as the adoption of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook continues to grow, giving us the ability to effectively separate the individual from the organisation.

New tools exist to assess the skills accurately. These new tools are able to measure people’s skills with precision, making college degrees and brand-name companies look like blunt approximations in comparison.


Lucy Kellaway, management columnist at Financial Times, disagrees with Gulati and believes that affiliations matter more than achievements. She declares that far from getting less important, flashy affiliations are now more important than ever. This is partly because the job market is so bad that everyone needs all the help they can get. It’s also that getting these good jobs and good degrees is harder than it used to be. In her days, Lucy says, it was possible to sidle into a top university almost by mistake. Once people emerged with their degrees, getting a job was a doddle. She fails to see how being big on Twitter makes you attractive to future employers, surely it just tells them some people spend more time composing silly little messages than working.

So she advices the ambitious to go for prestige every time. Kellaway admits that it is shallow and unfair, but it works. Having a prestigious employer already is a great help in finding a new one. In her experience these mighty institutions work well as comfort blankets, wombs and crutches, all roles that are generally frowned on – but wrongly so.

Let’s see what the people in the Middle East have to say with regard to achievement vs affiliation:

“This is my issue with resumes and how the majority of companies hire today. They look for candidates who have already done what the company now wants to do. It’s a process and thinking mentality that creates and encourages drone-like behaviour as a cultural norm. Own your accomplishments, but focus on how you can grow, be better and do more amazing things.” Noor-Al-Din (employed in Abu Dhabi, UAE)

“We should be thankful to the Internet, especially social media networks, for even having to have the opportunity to debate on this issue. In the good old days, we were left with the choice of one’s affiliation only. But now, social media networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, have helped us as individuals, to share, participate and broaden our knowledge and contacts — in a much easier and faster way thus helping us ‘build’ a sort of reputation. Well, depending on how actively and more importantly, meaningfully you are getting involved on these platforms.

To an extent it also depends on what stage of your career you are at. To me, at this point of time both are important. My achievements provide a solid base to me and my affiliations build a sort of ‘reputation’ or a ‘trust circle’ around me. The other very important point is…me being an entrepreneur, my affiliations tend to bring in more business. So, I would say affiliations are increasingly becoming more and more important, at least for me! Kabeer (Dubai-based entrepreneur)

After observing the views of some people in the Middle east, both Gulati and Kellaway seem to be holding valid opinions, as both, achievement and affiliation, can be very important for any individual. They can work as a guiding force in a person’s life in many ways. A need for achievement gives an incentive to have a sense of accomplishment and a need for affiliation drives a person to be with different kind of people and have many different kinds of relationships. Both help in gaining a sense of satisfaction in their own way.

But they may come in between one another and thus negatively impact each other. For a person who is high on need for achievement, the desire to affiliate may cause a disturbance in his/her work and accomplishments. Likewise, for a person who is high on need for affiliation, the desire to achieve success in work may put him/her away from his close relationships. Human beings have a tendency to act according to the situation. A person may behave in a certain way in one situation and behave differently in another situation. It is quite possible that in one situation a person can be high on need for achievement and in another situation the same person can be high on need for affiliation.

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