The hardest lesson I had to learn when I started at Microsoft was that the workplace is not like college or school where we value high test results and those who can remember the most over retaining information in the long term.
As an example, I can remember the hours I spent pouring over my Biology notes during my last two years of school, trying to absorb as much as I could to prove I deserved to be in the class and get the highest score possible in the final exam. Do I remember any of it now? Just one small tidbit of information: The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Not exactly useful in my career as a program manager but I’ll take it.
It’s no secret that the one thing that managers care most about is impact – what did you bring to the table and what was the resulting impact from your actions. Very different from the results based mindset we learned in school.
We are moving towards a world where we value learning from the past, owning our mistakes and approaching situations with a growth mindset. This results in a new way to evaluate employees: what was their impact and how did they contribute to the success of others. By learning how to efficiently communicate your impact early in your career you will set yourself apart from the rest of your peers when it comes to writing more concise but direct personal evaluations, asking for your next promotion, writing resumes or updating your LinkedIn.
So, how exactly should you show your impact?
The most important point to make here is that a huge number of tasks does not equate to a large amount of impact. Think of the 80/20 principle: 80% of your impact will come from 20% of the work you do. Your manager probably does not care about the 2 hours you spend writing emails every day but they probably do care that you provided personal support via email for x many customers to help them with a problem they were facing with one of your projects.
Helping others is also an activity that highlights impact that you had. Maybe you helped a teammate learn a new technology or maybe you created some new training documentation for a new team process or tool. Did you give advice on how to handle a tough situation at work? Mentoring or coaching peers is also a great example of impact. By helping others you are indirectly contributing to their success which is certainly an impact you help create. What about helping a close team mate with something personal like moving into a new apartment or giving advice on the best bars in town? You might want to leave this type out and focus on work related activities.
Here are some ideas on how you can improve how you communicate your impact:
Practice Practice Practice
The best way to communicate your impact is to keep trying and sharing with your manager and peers for feedback if you feel comfortable doing so. It is not a skill you can study for and get right every single time. It’s an activity that changes as you evolve your career as the definition of impact changes from team to team and across different roles.
Track your impact
One activity I like to do for each new team I join is to create a document (I use Excel) and start tracking the activities I think allowed me to have impact and attempt to define that impact. I don’t share this file with anyone and I try update it every day or at the very least, every week. Some activities can seem like they could have a big impact but maybe when you actually write it down, you realise that it was not as impactful as you thought or maybe someone else had more to do with the impact than you did. Writing down activities like this allows you to see impact where you might have missed it before and it allows you to look back and update entries as you make progress on them over the next few weeks.
What I like about this activity is that when it comes to writing your personal evaluation or a one-to-one with your manager, you can take a look over what you have done over the last few weeks and pick the most impactful statements.
I also like to keep track of what I could have done better for each activity to make even more impact. This can be quite hard to do for some activities and may seem a little bit silly for others but it allows me to really think about my impact and improve for next time when a similar situation comes up.
Writing personal evaluations
This is one of the activities at work I’ve grown to hate the most and no matter how many I do, I can’t seem to enjoy doing them. I personally find it hard to write about my impact and failures without making me feel like I’m big-headed. I’ve had many conversations with others who also struggle with this activity so it’s time to break this down and make it easier for all of us to write an honest evaluation.
1. Focus on your top impactful activities since your last evaluation and try write them as value statements: For [project name], I [completed this activity] so that [describe your impact]
Example: For super awesome project Penguins, I provided continuous support via email for 100 users on the latest release of our new features so that users could get step by step instructions on how to fix their issues. Based on the questions and help required for these users, I updated the online documentation to include step by step guides to help more users find answers they need without having to engage with support.
2. Include how you contributed to the success of others
3. What did you learn from mistakes you made and how will you apply this learning for future projects
Once you are happy with a first draft, share with your manager, a close peer or mentor and ask for feedback on how to improve. They will be able to point areas for improvement like clarifying your impact more or helping you to realizing if you were downplaying your impact.
Forward thank you or feedback mails to your manager
One good tip I received from a mentor a few years ago is to save emails you receive from a client or peer to say thank you for the great job you did on a project or maybe sharing the impact your work had on a project. These emails are great to receive but they are also good to forward to your manager (if they were not included in the email) or mention in your next one to one to let them know how much the person who sent the mail values the impact you had.
Ask for help
Everyone defines impact in a different way so one way to find out quickly if you’re on the right track is simple – just ask! Ask your manager and peers for examples on how they think you were impactful. Chances are you will be pleasantly surprised!