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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

If you don’t know what impact your work is having, it’s probably work you shouldn’t be doing

No employee wants to feel like a replaceable cog in the machine. By aligning our employees with their impact, we create an engaged, cooperative workforce that is united around a common purpose.

If you don’t know what impact your work is having, it’s probably work you shouldn’t be doing
[Sanja/AdobeStock]

It’s no secret that we’ve seen historic numbers of employees leave their jobs in the past few years. Employees report feeling undervalued, underpaid, and underutilized. According to a Gallup survey, only 36% of American workers feel engaged at work, and the majority of those say they are actively seeking new jobs.

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As a technology professional, this trend has been particularly concerning with resignation rates in the tech industry among the highest in the country.

Why are so many talented technology professionals fleeing the field? There are, of course, many factors in such a decision, but I have one theory: they could no longer identify the impact of their work.

UNDERSTANDING THE WHY

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The path to success will be long, arduous, and murky if we don’t know where we’re going and why we’re going there. It is our job as leaders to ensure every employee can see the path we are forging and how their unique talents impact our success.

When employees understand not only what they do but why they do it, their work is given an entirely new meaning. It becomes more than an arbitrary set of tasks on a to-do list, and they begin to understand how their work affects the company’s mission. Armed with this knowledge, employees can feel more engaged and motivated to efficiently and effectively work toward their goals.

Now more than ever, knowing the impact of our work is crucial. According to a Gartner survey, 52% of employees say the pandemic led them to question the purpose of their day-to-day jobs. Employees crave meaning in their work, and we have to help them find it. Check in with your employees and make sure they know how their work ties into the bigger picture. When you place their impact at the forefront, you will begin to see employee satisfaction soar.

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MEASURING THE IMPACT

If we can’t identify the impact of our work, we will find ourselves sailing on a boat without a rudder and using a map without a compass. Identifying the purpose of our work allows us to clearly chart the path forward, measure our progress, and identify what is most important.

Before beginning any new project, I discuss and clearly document what our team hopes to accomplish and why. For example, if we are building out a new ordering capability, we may establish, given our growth trajectory, that this new program will drive operational scale. But I don’t stop there: How, exactly, are the features we are building going to drive operational scale and improve the overall client experience? And how will those features improve the accuracy of an order and lower human intervention?

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Once we’ve asked and answered these questions, we can see how all of this work will mean we can drive higher ordering volumes and thus grow our company. By getting to the core of the project, our work is given purpose and we are motivated to dive in headfirst.

Every single project, no matter how small, should be tied back to how it will impact the company. If an employee cannot figure out how the work they are doing relates, we have to ask, “Why not?” Is it because they do not yet understand the larger vision of the company? Or is it a project that is not truly contributing to the company and should be sidelined? This not only increases efficiency but also helps accurately allocate resources to the right projects.

TALKING IT THROUGH

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In order to be aligned as a company in our purpose and impact, we have to foster open and frequent communication. Clear communication builds trust, increases productivity, and minimizes misalignments that could lead to a costly misuse of time and resources.

In my experience, establishing open communication between technology and business professionals has been one of the most difficult things to achieve in the workplace. Too often, we make assumptions about what others are working on and why.

When we allow these assumptions to rule our process, we may reach a point where we are so far along in the development of a product that, by the time we realize our assumption was incorrect, it is too late to turn back. We have wasted precious time and capital dollars due to our inability to communicate. If we were upfront about our goals and established a cohesive plan from the beginning, we would have had a much better output.

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Conversely, an employee may feel the work they’re doing does not line up with the goals of the company, but is afraid to speak up. They plug away at it, growing resentful and feeling as if they are wasting their time. In reality, their work does align with the company—they just don’t yet understand how. By fostering an environment where communication is encouraged from the beginning, we are able to avoid such cases of misalignment.

We have to cultivate the intellectual curiosity to constantly evaluate and communicate about our work. Are we still in touch with our mission or have we diverged? Do we truly understand the impact of our work or are we just saying we do? It requires vulnerability to communicate so openly, but it is where businesses flourish.

PUTTING IMPACT AT THE FOREFRONT

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No employee wants to feel like a replaceable cog in the machine. By aligning our employees with their impact, we create an engaged, cooperative workforce that is united around a common purpose. We put a stop to the proverbial hamster wheel of modern work and create a team that knows what they are working toward.

We cannot expect to fulfill our vision if our team does not know where we are going and why their role is essential to getting there. Furthermore, we won’t have much of a team if we are unable to communicate the purpose of our work. Each employee has something unique and vital to contribute to the health and growth of your company—it is up to us as leaders to make sure they can see it too.


Jeanine L. Charlton serves as Senior Vice President & Chief Technology & Digital Officer at Merchants Fleet.

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