Your Real Job is Having Impact

Having an Impact is the most important thing you can do if your goal is to unlock raises, bonuses, and promotions. I would argue thinking about Impact and telling a compelling Impact Story is the single most important thing I can teach anyone looking to make an Entry Level Escape (the second most important is projectizing your promotion, FYI). This blog post is going to help you understand the importance of Impact and how to tell people about it in a compelling way.

If you like where this is going and want to learn to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

Mission possible

Every role in every organization exists because it provides more value to the organization than it costs to employee the person in that role. If you work in a for profit company and you make $50,000 per year that is because the company believes it can obtain more than $50,000 worth of value from your work. Same for non-profits. Same if you make $150,000. This is an economic law, but it also makes intuitive sense. Companies can’t afford to hire people just to lose money on them and most have to justify a return on investment, so you’re likely worth more than “break even”.

No matter what your title, job description, skills, training, etc., your real job is to create Impact.

So, what is Impact and how do you create value? For pretty much every role in a for profit company your Impact is either cost reduction, revenue growth, or both. For example, in a previous role I modernized an actuarial process reducing run time from months to days, a cost savings. In my current role (at time of writing) I help drive increased sales, which increases revenue. For non-profits, in addition to cost and revenue (fundraising), you can also measure Impact through the mission itself, e.g., feeding more people at Meals on Wheels.

Impact is a classic example of simple but not easy. An as entry level talent your work product might be separated from the top or bottom line by organizational or project layers. For example, in my current role I have someone who creates sophisticated data assets by manipulating multiple third-party data sets. The data asset he creates is not Impact, however when the data asset is fed into an application and then that application is used by a sales rep and then that sales rep makes a sale, then we finally get the Impact. This end-to-end encapsulation is what I call the Impact Story and it’s how you put Impact into action.

Tell me a story

By now you should believe your role is expected to provide Impact and that your real job is to generate Impact. Furthermore, you understand that your Impact target is in excess of your salary, else you wouldn’t have a job. However, you’re probably thinking about how similar you are to my previous example of the person who makes data assets…your buried in an organization and you’re not sure how you create Impact. Here’s how to get that sorted out so you can write a compelling Impact Story, which is simply tracing your work to the financials.

Your first option is to use intuition about your work product and how it fits into the big picture. In my experience, this works great with discrete projects but less so for recurring tasks. For example, if when my team performed a market study to find new opportunities, I could trace the Impact story like this:

  1. My team performs the study
  2. My team presents our findings to “executive X”
  3. Executive X then incorporates our findings into their bigger strategy
  4. The bigger strategy generates Impact
  5. We may help measure the Impact then go back to Executive X (and possibly their peers) to ensure everyone agrees:
    • The Impact is real
    • The Impact is due to the strategy
    • The strategy was informed by the study (in other words, no study, no strategy, or at least a worse strategy)

If you’re working on a project (as opposed to a recurring, business as usual task) try to do this on your own. If you get stuck, work with a manager or trusted senior colleague to help get the causal chain mapped out.

Your second option is to ask what happens to “stuff” when you deliver it and what Impact is it having up the line. This is great because it shows you’re critically examining something that may be taken for granted; you may identity work that is no longer needed; you’ll get the input you need for your Impact story. Let’s take each of these scenarios apart:

  1. Thinking critically – one of the key differences between adequate entry level talent and thriving entry level talent is the independent thinking. When you take the time to ask questions and understand why you do what you do, that’s an early indicator of independent thinking and a signal that you’re on a path towards an Entry Level Escape.
  2. Not needed – it’s not common but it also impossible that you are maintaining something that used to be critical but is not longer needed. I had a consulting client that had an automatic sunset policy for anything that wasn’t used for 180 days to avoid maintaining things that ran their course. The environment changes, maybe a VP who loved Tableau leaves and their replacement wants PDFs; in the case the Tableau dashboard maintenance can stop. News doesn’t always reach the lowest levels of the org. It can’t hurt to ask.
  3. Impact story – here’s the happiest path, you ask about something and it turns out the thing is valuable. Great, now you can learn why and how it adds value and generates Impact. For example, a monthly report that shows how successful last month’s marketing campaigns were may be a crucial input to the next month’s marketing strategies. In this case you are providing valuable insight up the line so leaders can make better marketing decisions. Keep going down that path to see why smarter marketing leads to cost savings or revenue growth.

Once you have the sequence of events for the major uses of your time, you need to write the story then get people to sign off on it to really solidify your promo case. To understand, refer back to the first example in this section where I need “Executive X”, and possibly additional executives, to “sign off” on the Impact and the relevance of the insights we produced. Chances are in practice your manager or even your manager’s manager will ultimately get the sign off but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Make it easy for them. They’ll appreciate it and you can rule out being caught without adequate Impact.

Putting it all together

Normally, I end these posts with write ups to make the advice actionable however this post is inherently actionable so what I’d like to do is end with some examples from my Udemy course of what I think are solid Impact stories. I invite you to write your own and share what you think feels right.

Impact story for data scientists




If you found this post helpful and want more ways to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

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