The following is a guest piece by Daniel Patrick Forrester.
Over the last ten years I have seen a movement happening within for-profit organizations. They are moving towards including a social impact agenda within their purpose as a company. Which is groundbreaking for society! I can think of no greater time in history to advance our society then by for-profit social impact investing.
For- profit organizations are reflecting upon their current value proposition and looking to dig deeper by bringing meaning into the workplace and world. They are seeking to answer the questions, “why do we exist?” and “does our presence in the world mean something beyond our establishment?”
For-profit leaders looking to develop an advantageous social impact strategy should simply turn towards looking at successful non-for-profits for guidance. The space between data and meaning is a constant battle for organizations of all size to measure.
One differentiator I see in purpose driven non-profit organizations is they are excellent at stepping back and measuring the value of impact. Data is great, but it’s not the “end-all be-all” in measuring impact.
In my experience, impact is frequently understated within organizations; it often gets relegated to a set of lifeless metrics that quantify part of the story but obfuscate qualitative understanding. No single metric can tell the real story of impact. Rather, the mechanics of measurement distract from understanding the incredible power of the ‘force’ exerted on someone when they come in contact with your organization.
No metric illuminates the impact on a human soul touched by the efforts of an effective organization. For example, our client, Rebuilding Together, is a purpose-driven organization that released this incredible video highlighting what metrics can never capture.
The video, introduces us to a courageous, brave, and grateful woman named Cheryl. Cheryl is one of more than 150,000 American homeowners that Rebuilding Together has helped over the last 25 years. In this moving video, she recounts her experience in working with Rebuilding Together and the unmeasurable impact its had on her life. The happiness and stability Rebuilding Together created for Cheryl cannot be measured by any metric, but felt in her words of gratitude that this video so eloquently showcases.
For-profit leadership teams and boards: know that impact simply can’t be mentioned on a few slides at the next annual retreat. Impact must be looked at not only in the context of the greater good your organization seeks to achieve but also in what you are doing to make an actual dent in the problems your organization exists to solve.
The Rebuilding Together video example highlights what data can’t measure. I urge for-profit organizations to find and question the set of intangibles that are the true measures of impact. Reflecting on the evidence of your organization’s impact should be a grounding debate that returns with consistency.
I have created a list of questions for leaders to use to measure the value of impact and create this debate inside your organization:
1. Who gets to define what impact is within your organization?
2. Who within your leadership team can really describe why that desired impact matters?
3. What points of inference will you choose to measure impact?
4. Are you measuring impact with a scale that’s commensurate with the problems you seek to solve?
5. Have you sought collaboration with like-minded executives in the non-profit world?
6. Does who or what you exist to help feel helped?
The truth is, the world has no shortage of problems. Deciding how you can help is huge task. The above questions act as continual guide posts to refer to. It is my experience in using them that they unearth true impact, over and over again.
Leaders should use these questions to develop a plan that results in a social impact strategy that is measurable with both data and the intangibles. Most importantly, they should seek moments of reflection to find meaning as this will sustain them and enable them to continue doing good where good is needed.
Daniel Patrick Forrester is the Founder and CEO of THRUUE. He has worked with leaders in both the public and private sectors including at Dow Chemical, Xerox, AARP Foundation, The Library of Congress, Meals on Wheels Association of America, and Verizon. In his new book, “Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization”, Daniel examines the importance of reflection in leadership to successfully guide teams and organizations.