Why your work may be making more of an impact than you think

by Shannon Houde

After spending years as a career coach, I know I am not the only one in the sustainability field who sometimes wonders what type of impact I am making.

Often, those of us who are driven to make a difference, change the world for the better and leave our mark have a hard time identifying tangible results. So how do we stay motivated? Where do we find quantifiable results to make a business case for strategic programming? Here are a few places to start.


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

Clarify ‘outputs’ vs. ‘impacts’

Measuring impacts is done in the long term, while outputs are measured in the short term. Focusing on outputs allows you to identify wins and successes in real time. For example, if you worked at a retail bank and your goal was to improve underprivileged kids’ money management skills, you could run a weekend workshop to teach them saving skills. The number of kids attending the workshop would be the output – you could measure that quite easily. The impact would be the number of those kids that opened a bank account and managed their money responsibly in their adult life. This is much harder to measure. Ask yourself, what type of results do you seek?

Identify what replenishes you

Sustainability and community development work are intensely personal pursuits. Before you can decide which metrics to use, think about what results you need to see. What does impact look like to you? Come up with KPIs that will help you quantify results. For example, if you choose to focus on output-oriented results, you might use the number of cotton farmers engaged with an extension programme on best practice in pesticide use as your KPI. An impact-related result of the same programme could be improved soil quality and biodiversity in cotton growing areas within 10 years. Understanding the results you are looking for and knowing when you have achieved them is key to maintaining momentum, motivating yourself and replenishing your passion.

Seek recognition in all the right places

While it may be hard to admit that we want to be formally recognised by others for our achievements, this is usually part of what fuels our desire to work hard and makes us feel appreciated. It is OK to seek recognition from others. You can even work to instill a culture of mutual recognition in your workplace by making an effort to let your boss and coworkers know what they are doing well.

Also allow yourself to recognise your own hard work. In a recent article I wrote for, I identified the following exercise as a way to help validate your achievements:

Take a blank piece of paper and draw three columns with these headers:

  1. Situation: This is the problem you were trying to fix.
  2. Action: This is what you achieved through using specific skills.
  3. Result: This is what came out of those actions.

Be honest about your motivations

Why do you want to have an impact? What drives you to take on a challenging career where results are so hard to identify? The truth is there are many reasons you seek this type of role. Do you want to leave a legacy? It is a matter of ego or strengthening your personal brand? Are your desires purely altruistic? Most likely, it is a combination of these things. Work to identify which is most important to you without judgement. This is not easy, but an honest self inquiry may reveal that you are already having more of an impact than you think.

I’d love to hear what motivates you. Do you tend to focus on output or impact results in your daily work?


You may also like...

4 ways to launch your career into the impact sector… and why now?

For all of us the pandemic has been a moment to take stock. To rethink and reframe what matters and what doesn’t, be that our health, our families, or pursuing our passion.   And seems it’s provided much the same opportunity for business.  Yes, the immediate corporate response to Covid-19 and a national lockdown was short-term survival. But it’s now clear that the enforced hiatus has also led many execs to look much further down the line, and recognize that values, and a sense of purpose have never

By Shannon Houde
A Deep Dive Into Sustainability Careers

Careers in sustainability are increasing in demand but how do you break into this highly competitive market? What are companies looking for in employees and how do you set yourself apart? Whether you are new to sustainability, a recent graduate, looking to make a career change, or looking to advance your current career in sustainability, this discussion hosted by Net Impact Amsterdam is for you.  DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up  

By Shannon Houde
12 of the best courses to bolster your sustainability credentials

Sustainability is always evolving. As are the expectations of organisations. The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to regularly set aside time for professional development. But with an abundance of courses to pick from, which ones deserve your time?   As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”   DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up The success of any career or company depends on a willingness

By Shannon Houde
Shannon Houde on AI and sustainability jobs

WorkingNation interviewed leaders in sustainability at the GreenBiz 20 Conference in Arizona as part of their #WorkingNationOverheard campaign. Shannon Houde is the founder of Walk of Life Coaching, the first international career development and talent advisory business focused on the sustainability, CSR and impact sectors. In this clip, Shannon talks about artificial intelligence as a job or career game-changer. “Something to be aware of if you’re getting into sustainability and interested in technology,” Shannon tells us, “is definitely AI.” DON’T MISS

By Shannon Houde


Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon