It Never Gets Easier but You Can Still Make a Difference
In the words of Greg Lemond, the legendary American cyclist, ‘it never gets easier, you just go faster’. And so it is with most of our jobs. We work hard, we try hard and slowly, surely our skills improve. Our experience allows us to make better decisions, play a greater part in the success enjoyed by ourselves, our teams and our businesses. So you might think that you can’t make a difference in your job until you have mastered lots of other skills. If you do, feel free to come back to this article later. However, I’ll wager you’ll never feel quite ready, never going quite fast enough. But you can be making a difference from your first day in a new job if you plan to.
We All Want to Make a Difference
It’s obvious that we all want to ‘make a difference’. We all want to feel valued, respected, achieve great things, progress and develop as people. But what does ‘making a difference’ really mean, and how can you be sure that you are doing that?
Like any task or objective, it takes thought, planning, application, practice and reflection.
But let’s be honest here, you also want to be seen to make a difference. Nothing wrong with that, recognition is important. Most of us work out of necessity and there are jobs where it’s not so easy to find fulfilment and a sense of achievement. But that’s most often a relationship between the job and job holder. What is mundane to one person can be motivating to another. That doesn’t mean you should walk away from a job that doesn’t allow you to be the best you can, not immediately anyway. After all, the bills have to be paid and it’s almost always easier to get a new job when you already have one. But it does mean that in the long run, you may not be in the role you’re best suited to.
What’s in It for Me?
So begin by thinking about what you understand by ‘making a difference’. Making a difference to whom? Yourself? Others? Well, both actually and it’s worthwhile treating them separately because any successful action needs to have a ‘what’s in it for me’ and a ‘what’s in it for them’ element.
So, what IS in it for me – well, you actually! A sense of achievement, career development, helping others. What matters most is that you’ve thought about it so that you can target how and where you want the difference to be made. The more precisely you know what you want this to be, then the higher is the likelihood that you’ll accomplish it.
How Do I Go About It?
Here’s an example:
A colleague decided he wanted to make a difference as a leader following a two-day leadership training course. He focussed on two or three techniques from the course and planned how he could use them in his own team of three people.
He went about this in two ways. First, he took them for lunch at his own expense where they talked about themselves, their career experiences, personal interests and ambitions. Second, he changed his weekly team meeting so that his team members take turns to chair it. Because the agenda is structured, the preparation they need to do is minimal and the content is mostly updates of the tasks each of them is involved with already. But it demands some leadership from each team member, it requires them to speak to a group, challenge their colleagues, it makes them stick to time limits, all of which has noticeably increased their confidence when dealing with other colleagues.
What’s in It for Anyone Else?
So what’s in it for anyone else? The difference this example makes to others seems to be obvious. Those team members are developing skills within the safety of their own team. They’re learning about themselves, about one another and from one another. But look again, a bit closer this time.
It makes a difference to me as my colleague’s line manager. I see that the training I sent him on has had an impact, that he is engaged and committed to doing something with it. Here is a thoughtful, resourceful and motivated person who is endorsing behaviours that the business wants to promote. Someone to keep an eye on for the future. The difference was also noted by the L&D department who provided the training, by others on the course who used his actions as a model for their own initiatives and by senior people who have earmarked him as a future leader.
Let’s Get Started
But surely this is small beer. After all, it’s only a team of four in an organisation of hundreds. Maybe, but it shows how one person can make a small but lasting difference.
In your own efforts be similarly patient. Look for modest opportunities, to begin with. You may not have a team to lead, so think about a different type of difference. Think about and plan what you are going to do. Take your time to prepare but then execute your plan. Then give it time once again; don’t expect instant results and recognition. Take small steps. Periodically review how things are going compared to your expectations. Revise your plan, seek feedback from colleagues and your boss. You don’t have to tell them you are making a difference, of course, just that you want to make sure you are being effective. Most people are happy to provide feedback.
Above all, you decide what making a difference means. And once you feel your actions have achieved the result you hoped for, move onto the next thing and this time, be even more ambitious!