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.


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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?


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