If you’re an overthinker like me, you might think broadly about issues in your industry. Whether you’re an employee, contractor or entrepreneur, there’s always the opportunity to cause some or significant impact in your field.
This post is inspired by the Work on what matters blog post by Will Larson. Though this post only focuses on the impact part of influence, whether your impact is made visible or not, it is up to you to factor visibility in the kind of impact of your choosing. It also broadens the scope of influence in that it’s not just organizational change that you could be looking for.
With that cleared up: What are some ways to be impactful in your organization or industry? First, identify the root causes of the issues you experience in broad terms. Then, select the one where you have the most realistic opportunity to change (with your expertise, personal contacts, and position of influence). Then choose one or more of the tactics described below.
Impact by Media
Assuming you live in a free country, we all have a voice. You can post your thoughts on a blog of your own or in a media outlet you get invited to write as a guest author. Of these two alternatives, owning your media is the best in decentralization. Still, I understand the reach initially might not be as high as publishing a news network or a shared blogging platform like Medium, Substack or Ghost.
If whatever you have to say is highly sought, have no doubt no matter how you publish it, your post will have an audience, though it’s best if you did it the right way.
To make this kind of impact worthwhile, you must be willing to risk your reputation because an opportunity of being impactful can get lost if you water down your words. Shying away from what needs to be said kills the benefit of impact for the entire industry, like a missed hit for a home run. People on the losing end of your industry will resent you if you make a weak attempt that burns the possibility of further positive real impact.
Direct communication, using the most appropriate words to show the dry truth, is required to cause the most impact using this way. Nobody benefits from your self-censorship. Do, however, avoid adding drama to your content, as it doesn’t help anyone, be it in a blog post or an internal company chat.
Sometimes this kind of impact requires the force of strong imagery, be it in financial charts that show the risk of bankruptcy or photojournalism that directs our world’s reality.
If you’re going to be a hero, be responsible with your words.
Impact by Action
Develop a product or service that directly solves your industry’s problem or takes the matter into your hands. This is the most robust proposition, the one that requires the most commitment and the riskiest one, as your time, effort and money invested can be lost or exceeded by budget.
Sometimes this is creating an open-source software to offer to the community. Do you hate the current CRM software your company is using because of frustrating UX and UI? Maybe use your CRM’s API to develop an alternate UI that is not frustrating to you. This can give you increased working speed (thus, increasing your impact positively) since only you will know what makes you agile at work. Example: Using your CRM’s API, you can create a Power BI or Tableau dashboard that pulls data from the Deals module and find out if you are the salesperson with the highest conversion rate if you are an engineering-focused professional. To whom is this impact exposed? Would it be worthwhile converting it into a business?
The previous example is hazardous because it can get you fired. Are you trying to raise the level of the entire department, or are you trying to cheat the system? Think about this one. An organization that doesn’t want you to be this kind of courageously proactive it’s probably not an organization worth working for.
If the impact you’re looking for is about social change, consider joining a Non-governmental organization (NGO). If the NGO is functional, the effect all of us together can move boulders. If toxic internal office politics contaminate the NGO, evaluate the possibility of founding your own with the extra care of nurturing positive organizational culture.
Impact by Nudging
Proceeding gradually, subtly, pull the right strings towards directed positive changes. By understanding the incentives of each stakeholder, you can strategically select whom to talk to and establish agreements of action to move forward with the desired outcome.
This approach is like what is documented in the Enterprise Sales for Hackers blog post by Y Combinator. It talks about how companies are people systems, how each department has an objective to comply with and how you can help each of these achieve such a goal. It’s even better if you get to precisely understand their corporate strategy in such a way you provide whatever’s necessary to get them to their Promised Land.
In this sense, sometimes nudging someone also means helping others be impactful, and by transference, you get your share of impact as well, compounding your results if you help others simultaneously.
Most of the time, social systems need to be changed from within, and you must join within their context and effect the necessary change from the inside.
The Implications of Impact
You must consider the result you’re looking for and be honest about it. Are you looking for more money? Ensure your efforts translates into that. Are you looking to change the incumbent of an industry for another one? Ensure your impact will result in that outcome.
Also, make sure that kind of impact is available to you. We could make an impact by media, but not an impact by action, and this is fine, or vice versa. If you’re doing your best available to you, that is great.
Having a sound execution plan to drive change is excellent for improving chances of success. Coordination (what professionals do) beats improvisation (how an amateur acts). This plan doesn’t need to be complicated or thoroughly revised; it just needs to make sense. Some of the world’s greatest plays were written on a napkin.
These impact types can be overlapped or coordinated sensibly. Using a single kind of impact will have limited reach, but combining these will exponentially increase the overall effect if used strategically. For instance, you can use both “impact by media” and “impact by action” to cause “impact by nudging” softly over time to drive change. Suppose your actions compound, and you carefully measure the results. In that case, you might start silently by the decimals but end up being a force of nature in the thousands in a few years, for whatever metric you’re using (adoption, revenue of the initiative, media coverage, laws accepted, among other measurements).
It would be best if you considered the reason you’re driving change, as misguided ideals can cause a lot of damage. I’m not saying this to refrain you from acting; ponder the likelihood of your impact going sideways.
Evaluate the Return-on-Investment of your effort for this change. I would say that driving change takes at least three times the effort I initially projected it’d take, or maybe I’m just awful at estimations with unforeseen circumstances. There’s always a cost to be compared with the benefit of the actions executed today for the greater good. Be willing to sacrifice a bit of today for a better future (which will eventually become your new today over time). I call it “the pain that makes you grow.”
Get to work on that plan. Never surrender to your higher calling.
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