Future of Work

Want to improve your career? Focus on impact, not results

Can we explain in 10 seconds what we do, and what impact we have made in doing it?

Can we explain in 10 seconds what we do, and what impact we have made in doing it? Image: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Paolo Gallo
Adjunct Professor Bocconi University, Founder Compass Consulting, Executive Coach
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What can we actually do with our lives? Are we able to put our knowledge and skills into practice? Are we able to create an impact, something with more profound meaning than the numbers in the latest quarterly financial report? Can we explain in 10 seconds what we do, and what impact we have made in doing it?

For many of us, these are tough questions. But let me provide you with an example of an exception to the rule that it is usually difficult to articulate the impact we have on the world.

In January 2000, the founder of Microsoft, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the founder of the World Economic Forum, Professor Schwab, met in Davos over breakfast and reflected on a simple but crucial question: which investment in health has the biggest impact? The answer: vaccinating children, whose mortality rate is still unacceptable today.

We all can and should produce an impact.
We all can and should produce an impact.

Bill Gates, with his foundation, decided to invest $750 million over five years and created, with the WHO, a new organization: the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization, or GAVI. Since 2000, GAVI has vaccinated 500 million children, saving seven million lives. GAVI aims to vaccinate another 300 million children by 2020, protecting an additional five or six million lives.

Can we think of a greater impact than that?

Data alone is not enough

Impact is a wider concept than results: its aim is to create sustainable change. Results and data should be part of the narrative, but they cannot be the whole story. We all can and should produce an impact. Think, for example, about the teacher who is able to get students interested in a subject for life, the professional who is able to mentor and coach someone who goes on to excel, and the nurse who comforts a sick patient. If we do our work with integrity, compassion, and with purpose, we are creating an impact.

Let me share a secret: during job interviews, most candidates are able to describe only what they do; some manage to measure their results; but only very few are able to explain convincingly the impact that they have created in their work. Only the last category usually gets a job offer. We need to quantify what we have done, but we also need to have a narrative: a compelling and honest way of measuring the impact we have on the world.

Let’s assume you are looking for a new Head of Human Resources in your organization.

Candidate A describes, in general terms, his activities in areas such as recruitment, training, industrial relations and so on. You get what he does, but not why, how or how much. Candidate B explains her experience by providing results such as “X candidates recruited” and “Y training days delivered”. You get the what and the how much, but not the why and the how. Candidate C explains, with a strong narrative, the impact she has achieved: for example, she “co-designed the new organization with business managers, re-designed jobs, recruited 50% new staff and trained the remaining 50%. These changes contributed to an increase in sales of 20%, a cost reduction of 30% and a fall in staff turnover from 40% to less than 10%”. Impact, supported by a credible narrative, supported by data. You get what you need: what, how much, why and how.

Which candidate would you hire?

So, when we consider our life or career – or the way we structure an interview for a job – we need to focus on the impact we are able to create, which is linked to our inner purpose. We can create a meaningful impact - here and now - to improve our work, our life and even that of the people around us.

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