How to communicate your impact

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!

10 simple rules for working with managers

I have worked with many different types of managers and I have noticed that the same activities help me to improve my relationship with them. As this is one of the questions I get asked most often, I decided to write down by top ten tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your time with your manager and work smarter.

For more tips on how to handle one to ones with your manager, check out my blog post here on how to make the most out of these conversations.

#1: Establish a regular one to one meeting schedule

Nothing is as important as a regular check in with your manager to let them know exactly what is going on. Whether you need help, want to brag about the kick-ass job you’re doing or simply just check in and see what they have in store for you – you can’t do this without a regular time to meet.

I recommend meeting weekly for your first few weeks of your role and either keeping it up or moving to bi-weekly as you settle in.

#2: The one to one agenda

Do your homework ahead of time and identify what are the top five things you want to discuss. Think of it as if your meeting was interrupted after the first 5-10 minutes, what things do you really want to cover in that time and allow you to walk away from the meeting knowing it was productive. This will help you cover the most pressing items first and then move onto other important but not as time sensitive items.

For career development conversations: ideally you should check in on a career development plan in every one to one but at the very least, once a month with your manager. It is important to keep learning on areas you are interested in and keep your manager informed so they can help recommend trainings or people to reach out to that can help. While most of the work for this will be on you, keeping your manager in the loop will help them know where your interests lie and if an opportunity comes up in future to use those skills, they will think of your first!

#3: Decide how to best communicate in between one to ones

Work schedules vary from person to person so you do not have the time to IM your manager every time something happens. Maybe you want to share some good news with them or maybe you need help solving an issue that you cannot do alone.

For urgent items, you want to know what is the best way to contact your manager to help put out fires. Is it ok if you call them on their mobile if you can’t see them in the office or in meetings? Or do you send an email with high priority? Knowing how best to get your managers attention when you really need it will save you both a lot of time.

For sharing non urgent items or for sharing good news, you can send them a low priority ‘hey take a look at this’ email with a short summary of what you want to highlight. This is a good idea for the smaller but impactful things you got feedback on or a nice thank you note from someone that you think your manager would appreciate.

For everything else, keep a note of it and add it to your agenda for the next one to one.

#4: RACI Rules

I have found that sometimes my role on projects change from one week to the next. I’ve also found that some expectations set with my manager might be misunderstood by one of us. This can be hard to keep track of for both parties, especially when it comes to review time and you’ve done a ton of hard work that your manager knows nothing about.

One tool to try out is to create a RACI matrix for all your projects that you can check in on during your one to ones. It is also a pretty handy tool for you to keep track of the different people involved in each project since people tend to move around quite a bit.

A RACI matrix is a tool often used to show a breakdown of activities and deliverables for a project and who needs to take part in completing them. There are four different responsibilities a person can have for each activity or deliverable:

  1. Responsible – a person who gets the work done
  2. Accountable – a person who is in charge of ensuring the work is done and signs off on it when it’s complete
  3. Consulted – a person who can give feedback on the work done and give inputs on how to complete the work
  4. Informed – a person who is kept up to date of the latest work done for the activity

Example: I am working as the Product Owner on a team to create a new cinema web site that allows users to book seats to upcoming viewings. I could track the different activities using a RACI matrix like the following:

Activity Name Product Owner UX Team Developers Stakeholders
Scoping out the project A R R R
Designing the new website A R C C
Building the website A I  R I

#5: Find out what is the most valuable work to them and kick-ass at it

I have found the biggest way to make an impact at work is to find the work that your manager cares most about and make sure you knock it out of the park. It allows you to know what work you should prioritize over the rest of the top priority items you have on your plate.

I would encourage you to check in with your manager in every one to one to make sure you are both still aligned on what are the most valuable items to focus on as each new week brings a new set of top responsibilities. This will allow you to give some input on what you think you should be spending time on and influence the roadmap for your projects.

One way to do this is to prioritize your projects or to assign a time percentage beside each so you know how much time to allocate to each. If you can prioritize work with a bigger picture in mind, you can work smarter to reach these goals and know where you will need extra help.

#6: The 30/60/90 day onboarding plan

Not only does this apply for a new role, it also applies for a new project. With every new piece of work you take up, you will need some time to get up to speed on what has been going on before you joined before you can start making valuable contributions. If you can find out early what is expected of you at the 30/60/90 day mark, you will have the foresight to plan on activities or talk to the people required to get you there. You will also be able to help change the plan for the later milestones as you learn more about projects and define the roadmap going forward.

By talking about such a plan early and often with your manager, it will help align both of your expectations and allow you to not waste time on activities that should be done by someone else or at a later time.

#7: The career development plan

I have noticed that at work, we tend to put our heads down and get on with the ever piling stack of work on our desks. Very few people actually take a step back and decide where exactly they want to go in their career and even less people get their managers involved to help them get there.

A career development plan can be for any duration of time but the typical ones I have seen include a two year and five year plan. Think of them as where do you want to be in that time and what are the steps you need to do now to get you there.

I like to break each of my plans into 3-4 month milestones with a larger 1-2 year goal. As an example:

Overall goal: I want to learn more about UX and aim to be the UX lead for a project

Milestone 1: reach out to people working in UX that I know and learn more about their profession. Figure out good courses/books to look into

Milestone 2: on track to becoming a certified UX designer. Find a mentor to help

Milestone 3: job shadow to learn more about UX in a corporate environment

Milestone 4: take on a side project as a UX designer reporting to a UX lead to gain feedback on my skills and continue to learn

Much less scary to approach than stating a two year goal and not having anything to measure progress against until two years time!

By including your manager in these conversations you are opening up the opportunities you have as your manager can be your advocate and find you the people, projects and possibly training and conferences to get you to where you want to go.

#8: The downtime plan

There is nothing worse than sitting around with nothing to do. For me, there is nothing worse than this happening at work. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the odd downtime in between busy projects but anything more than 2-3 days and I start to worry about what I’ve missed. I typically take a look at my career development plan and decide what actions I can take on this during my downtime – what books should I read or trainings should I look into? Is there a person on my list I’ve been meaning to try grab for coffee but never gotten around to it?

By having a downtime plan set with your manager ahead of time, you can save yourself the headache of finding stuff to keep you busy. Your manager can let you know where they think you could focus more time or help you identify opportunities in your career development plan that you can start working on. By checking in on these conversations every few weeks, you can not feel guilty about downtime and keep yourself entertained.

#9: Feedback

Feedback can be one of the hardest things to both give and take but it is one of the most important. How you react to feedback and how you act on it says a lot about who you are and it can impact your career. If you are the type of person who gets defensive and offended whenever someone tries to give you constructive criticism, chances are you are not going to be a good person to work with.

Feedback is something you should both give and receive early and often. You should have a chat with your manager during one to ones to check in on how they think you are doing or how you could have improved how you handled certain situations. Most importantly, listen to the feedback and define an action plan on how you can work on it. People do not give feedback with the intent on being mean or hurting feelings, they give it to help you grow as an employee and help you go further in your career.

#10: Notice for days off and vacation

Find out early how your manager wants to be informed of your vacation time and days off. Do they want you to run it passed them first or is it ok to go ahead and book it off? Do they want you to send a reminder out to the entire team to let them know when you will be out or do you just notify those you work with? How much notice do they expect you to give?

By knowing ahead of time what to expect, you can save yourself a few headaches and plan without worrying about work.