Why your everyday actions are more impactful than you think.

“If you think you are too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” – Anita Roddick

Welcome to the inaugural release of IMPACT, a new section for Doctor’s Life where we will highlight a variety of topics focused on your personal, professional and societal impact.

Let’s begin with a definition of impact. Mission statements are not your biggest impact. Viral videos of philanthropy related stunts are not your biggest impact. Even grandiose acts of kindness or donations of time or sums of money are not your greatest impact. Why not, you ask?

All these things – although worthy and important – are self-interested. We give with an anticipated outcome. We enjoy the psychological and physiological effects of giving; yes, actual hormone boosts. We revel in our great work or great generosity and use it as mental justification for being a good human.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t do those things. All of these acts make society incrementally better. But let’s not confuse them with impact. These are point in time actions. They are controllable and conscious. Impact, on the other hand, is ongoing. Impact is not something we can control. Impact is the unconscious reactions to a consistent stream of authentic actions – in your organization, home, community or greater society. Impact is what happens when you adjust your mindset to transform point-in-time actions into a continuous way of thinking and acting.

Easier said than done? Of course. However too many of us hide behind our donations of money or time to charity without really stopping to understand the everyday impacts we could be making in our day to day lives. Did your contribution feed 7500 homeless people but you denied your administrative assistant flextime to take an art class and feed her passion? Does your company provide the best quality product in your industry but pay your employees too little to afford it? Do you promote a child’s character development through sports but then model poor coach or parenting behavior?

These examples are all at the individual level; however, misconstrued ideas about impact exist at the organizational level as well. If you have ever read the story of the PlayPump or the impact of indoor plumbing on social relationships and suicides in developing countries, you have witnessed the antithesis of impact. Single, well intentioned actions made based in an egocentric mindset that says “we know best what you need” led to devastating unintended consequences.

So what can you do to improve your everyday impact?

Begin where you are. Get clear about what you, or your organization stands for – both present reality and in the ideal. Let go of dogma that tells you what you should stand for and get vulnerably honest. Want to raise your organization’s salaries above the market value? Begin a small philanthropic arm to your practice? Take your kids abroad for a year? Whatever is authentic is fair game. But always keep in mind, impact isn’t about you. So when thinking through these options, they can’t be based in narcissism or the return on investment. They must simply reflect a genuine belief in the good of the decision for what it is. Once you gain your own clarity, use that filter for every decision you make. Over time the small decisions reflecting consistency of purpose will far exceed the single acts of grandeur.

Practical Impact Strategies

The 30,000ft View

Life is chaotic. Within that chaos it is easy to run with side blinders on, narrowly focused on only your own business. If you want to begin to build real impact, embrace your expertise and think about it as it relates to your industry as a whole. Reach out to partners within your industry or in complementary industries. Know the public policies that affect your business or industry and get involved with an advocacy group or association. Stay current in your broader arms of influence and help educate others – whether that is through writing, speaking or physically attending events. In the midst of life’s hustle, it can seem like a distraction to take time for some these activities but the compound effect is a vital piece of using your business to build impact.

Train Your Assassins

This section title is credited to Kelly Hoey, influential writer and speaker. In a recent lunch with her, I was inspired by this fun description which alludes to simple human interaction. When you hire good people, get to know them on a personal level and then empower them to achieve great things, not only does your organization reap the benefits, so does the greater community and the world. People want to be valued. We all have a voice, an opinion, a point of view. By no means should you replace valuing and listening with coddling. This has the opposite effect but no matter how big or small your organization is, you can take two minutes on a Monday morning to ask your receptionist how her weekend was. You can know that Sam in accounting loves the color blue or project manager Gary is Reds fan. It may amount to small moments of conversation but you should never discount the compound effect of simply caring about other humans.

And most important, let others know you as well. There is a fine line between being the boss or leader and being vulnerable but it is an important distinction. True human impact comes from a place of reciprocity. Your employees should know enough about the man/woman behind the curtain to be comfortable sharing their own stories. It doesn’t diminish your power as a leader. In fact it increases it.

There was a construction company CEO that I worked with a few years ago who struggled with the high turnover in his industry. More than the cost of constantly finding and training new talent, he had personal feelings of disconnect from his employees. One Friday after completing a large project successfully, he decided to celebrate with a parking lot BBQ. Over hamburgers, hot dogs and chips he found something he hadn’t even realized the organization needed, a sense of connection. From that day forward he grills out with his employees after every event and it’s become a vital part of the company culture, bringing about greater loyalty, worker satisfaction and less turnover. Who would have predicted a simple BBQ could mean so much? Are there small ways you could increase the human connection at your company? It could make a bigger impact that you think.

It starts from within

We have all heard the advice, you have to step back and work “on” your business rather than “in” your business. Easier said than done however there is a critical piece of that advice that relates specifically to impact. Too many of us put off the big thoughts of who we want our professional persona to be and what we want our organization to represent – basically the “why” of our organizational existence. Simon Sinek in Starts With Why, outlines a business model that turns that notion on its head. Before we start into the what to do and how we do it, we should spend real time thinking through the why. It adjusts our perspective and our focus. Don’t put it off. It is easy to get caught in the minutiae of the business at hand and before you realize you have allowed the culture of your organization to morph into something completely outside your values. Set aside time each week and certainly before any major pivots in your business, to write down the “Why”.

In business, in relationships, in life, it is the small consistent decisions that bring about the compound effects of real Impact. When you make a conscious choice about your values and build your decision making lens around that, you begin the cycle of impact. Let go of the outcomes and simply trust the process. We will all be better off for it.

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