How Are You Thinking About Impact?

By Jeffrey Whitford
Jul 7, 2017 10:30 AM ET

Maybe I’m being too idealistic—after all, it’s just a paycheck, right? But because of who I am, that’s not how I think about the 40 (who am I kidding, it’s way more than 40) hours that I spend working each week. And what do I work for? To make an impact—one that’s greater than anything I could accomplish as an individual. I start with me, then my team, then how an organization with 19,000 individuals—who are working with more than 1 million customers all around the world to solve some of the toughest problems—how can you not think about impact?

Science was truly the last place I thought I’d get my start at and spend the next 12 years of my life. I clearly remember the day it all began back in September 2004. I was getting ready to golf, which I picked up as a post-graduation, pre-employment hobby because I had nothing else to do and the job market wasn’t exactly a sizzler in Missouri’s two economic hubs of Kansas City and St. Louis. I got a call from a company in St. Louis that I never heard of before for a job doing something I definitely didn’t understand. In addition to my confusion about what the company was, the “job opportunity” was proofing their 3,000-page catalog as an internship.

So, like many recent graduates, my first stop was my parents. I thought, “These people have known me my whole life—they’ll realize the ridiculousness of this proposal.” After laying out my cards, my dad summed up his opinion pretty quickly. He said, “Jeffrey, you have two options—ask people if they would like fries with that or pack your bags and head to St. Louis for that job.” Given my two choices, to St. Louis I went—but at that time I wasn’t thinking about impact.

It didn’t take long for me to catch onto the bigger meaning of what the company was doing—the impact.  Either my level of cynicism wasn’t high enough or, without trying too hard, they effectively communicated their vision for what impact could look like. Another possibility is that I lucked into a situation where I could translate what I was seeing to then champion and amplify it. At the time, employee engagement and enrolling employees in our work isn’t something I would say was part of my job. Now, it takes up more than 70 percent of my time as I’ve come to realize that an army of thousands—or in my team’s case, an army of just over a dozen—is better than an army of one. Together, these employees amplify our work and the resulting impact.

But how does that happen? People aren’t just signing up for something that doesn’t have any meat. They’re looking for something compelling with meaning and transformational possibility. At times, I think I freak out my team and boss with my framing of the work we’re doing or are planning to do. As I recently shared with my team, “You hear me in absolutes but I need you to hear me with flexibility along with the vision and understanding of where we want to go.” It’s in that space that people are looking initially—where they do their window shopping. After you’ve hooked them with your window display, you have to deliver. If you’re going to cast a vision about how the future can look or be like, you better have a strong backup plan that has substance—one with proof points that can show you’re worthy of the trust needed for people to enroll in this idea.

For me, that vision is one where we, as MilliporeSigma, use our work in Corporate Responsibility to realize our purpose of collaborating with the global scientific community to solve the toughest problems in life science—except our definition stretches a bit further. I think of that idea in multiple ways, like shopping at the store and seeing the impact of what we do on the shelves through broader access to greener personal care products. The everyday consumer will have no idea, but a small change in an ingredient could dramatically alter the environmental footprint of everything they touch. This is then multiplied to include almost anything and everything that we interact with on a daily basis. However, our impact doesn’t stop there. We’re also working with middle school teachers around the world to see how we can make science an academic subject that isn’t intimidating and everyone loves. We’re helping to empower teachers to realize that their students are STEM-capable and when framed in possibility, there’s opportunity for everyone and the proof points over the years to back it up.

Which leads me back to you. How are you thinking about the impact you can make, be it at work or somewhere else? Have you already stumbled upon it without knowing? Are you looking for that aspect and do you understand the potential effect it can have on your work and on others? Ultimately, how will you find what your impact can be—and how will you maximize it?