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I’ve saved a lot of these over the years.

It’s Thanksgiving.

A time to slow down and focus on family. And food. And a chance to reflect and be grateful.

I am particularly grateful this year. In addition to my personal stuff (trust me, there’s plenty), I work for a great, values-led company that puts its employees and customers ahead of business outcomes — and has crushed its business outcomes. My team has grown, thanks to the measurable impact of our contributors and managers on the experience we shape for customers, and it’s downstream impact on our business results.

We have failed and learned from our mistakes and tried again. When we succeed, we are quick to humbly share the credit.

We bring our whole selves to work — and we are always searching for new ways to unlock the talents, intelligence and passions of our team. I am truly privileged to work with folks who work this hard AND still like each other.

A few weeks ago, one of our designers, Somin, shared a presentation that really struck a chord— about Meaningful Work. Based on a workshop she’d attended at Big Design, she’d gone on to make it her own — and use it to drive a thoughtful discussion with her team. Not only was it beautifully designed, but it was simple and powerful — like all great design work. A concept she shared that resonated with me was “sleepwalking” — the things we do every day that drain our energy. My least favorite part of working––of life, really––is sleepwalking: an activity that feel like it lacks purpose or impact. When you just go through the motions. I must remind myself that I have the power to change that energy, in a meeting, in my office, on my couch or in a conversation. So do you.

A big culprit of “sleepwalking work” is failing to connect the dots of one’s daily efforts to the bigger strategic picture. This can be particularly hard in an agency or consultancy, especially if your client’s broader business strategy is held at arms length. Or if the metrics by which success is measured are unclear or inaccessible. If you’re not familiar with the strategy, or the metrics, it’s pretty hard to connect your every day work to the difference you’re making for your team. Here are some ways to have impact, and derive meaning from the work you do.

Get inspired, then inspire others

Exposing yourself to others’ greatness––getting to know what impact feels like––is a great way to prime yourself to have impact on others. Whether that’s a conversation with an influencer, a trip to the art museum or a concert, or a thrilling experience like traveling, trying something new or volunteering your time to help someone else — meaningful work has that emotional impact. Delight. Heart-quickening excitement. Powerful and provocative stories.

Sharing what you’ve seen or learned or felt is a strong motivating force. It is gratitude in action. Especially when it’s in service to inspiring others. Part of “activating inspiration” is describing that inspiration to others.

I’m frequently asked where I find inspiration. I find it by traveling and putting myself in unfamiliar surrounding. I find it by meeting strangers. I find it by trying a new skill, a new medium, a new tool or a different scale. I find it by absorbing the greatness of others, and being intently curious about where THEIR inspiration came from. And then, I share it with others and listen.

Make your team better

A simple way to be more intentional — and meaningful––in your role is to provide rich, meaningful observations to your teammates about where they are most effective and where they can be better. This is gratitude in action. To tell someone explicitly how they have meaningful impact––and how they could have more––is a gift. And one that pays you back over time.

Making time to help someone else to define goals, recognize where they are, consider options and make decisions — this is another way you can make an impact.

If someone has done these things for you, thank them. Thank them very specifically. Even if it’s their job. So they know they were heard and their input was appreciated. That’s how they know to keep doing the good stuff. Without reinforcement and encouragement, some people stop investing. A simple, explainable thank-you is important.

Prioritize and deliver work that matters most to customers

Spending time with your customers, or the customers of your client, will lead to invaluable insights. But it also gives you purpose. It makes the work real, and that will power you through terrible meetings, personality conflicts and the churn of misalignment.

Observing your customers “in pain” as a team is a powerful tool to get teams on the same page. It gives you a visceral mission, not just a typeset one. You’ll recall those struggling customers by name. You’ll do more to persevere in the name of a person than in the name of a brief.

Connect the work you do to the business goals and strategy

The true quantitative metrics of impact will come down to the simple things. Did you hit your revenue targets? Did you impact customer’s lives? Did you make something that moved the needle and solved the problem and made you, your team, your clients look like heroes?

Know what those targets are. So you’ll know how you are evaluated. And also because it’s a tangible way for you to gauge your own effectiveness.

What experiences enriched you as a person? Think harder about what you would have done differently. What did you set out to learn? Did you learn that? What surprised you? Did you capture that? Who did you meet? What skills did you learn or hone? What tools did you employ?

Some of the hardest evaluating to do is reflecting on our own growth. That takes intention. It takes real, rich feedback from your peers. It takes reflecting on the impact of your work on your peers, customers and the business. And it takes self-awareness, coaching and motivation.

Written by

Design Leader, Advisor, Speaker, Student, Advocate, Enabler.

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