Real Leaders

Are You a Lonely Impact Leader? You’re not Alone

As a business leader, choosing impact is a challenging career choice. Not only is it different from conventional shareholder-centric businesses, but many of us haven’t experienced working in for-profit organizations with an impact focus before.

You must accept that you’ll be inventing new ways to lead and that sometimes you’ll struggle. Hiring and retention are critical issues for all organizations right now, and impact-focused companies have some unique challenges and strengths in this area. Because we’re not venture-backed and focus on impact first, the incentives for working at our organization are different. Sometimes, there are fewer extraordinary monetary gains to be made; we are flatter in our structure and compensation, including our senior team.

Recently we were hiring for a business development executive and interviewed some great candidates. Still, many professionals in this field are more motivated by financial reward than impact, so it has been a challenging role to fill. We can show growth and great compensation packages, but it’s hard to compete on financial rewards alone. Instead, we compete by focusing on our culture and benefits and by offering support for employee health, wage growth, and personal and professional development. I’ve adopted a “stretch don’t break” approach to creating growth opportunities for everyone, and we recently adopted a 4-day workweek that allows for more personal time. You need to define what makes your organization a great place to work.

The results have been phenomenal. We’ve had amazing people approach us to see if we’re hiring and to find out how to get involved. We know our formula is working because we’ve attracted people who fit our culture and impact focus. But it’s not for everyone — and that’s OK.

The other area we see our impact model making a difference is in our growth strategies. When we launch a new product or service line, we are continually focused on the impact of that new idea. Does it bring something new to the marketplace? Is it having an outsized impact on our customers relative to its cost?

This thinking causes us to look for better ways to measure impact and focus heavily on innovation in our work. The easier path might be to chase all ideas that generate revenue, but revenue is not always a good impact indicator. For example, we launched the Fearless Leaders MasterClass to develop the next generation of leaders in response to succession pipeline challenges, but many HR leaders sought “microlearning” and online solutions. Those systems are an easy sell as they are low-cost and on-demand for employees, but do they really change behavior or elevate skills? So we decided to go for a product that has a lasting impact and stands for real change. As an impact leader, you sometimes forgo easy revenue to build something with lasting value.

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