How To Overcome The Transition Away From Pure Visibility of Your Impact On Your Organization - Smart Money Seed

8/22/17

How To Overcome The Transition Away From Pure Visibility of Your Impact On Your Organization

Most high school graduates heading off to college in the fall follow similar paths. You get a job and work as much as you can all summer so you can afford all the beer you’ll need to get yourself through that first year of college.

Many of my friends who followed this path worked at restaurants, the local ice cream shop, factories, landscaping companies, or as ice packagers and delivery drivers (ß only the coolest). Although the day to day work of those jobs varies drastically, they all accomplish the same basic goal. We all worked hard, made money, and drank our beer in harmony.

But if we look a little deeper at the organizations where we were working, all those jobs held another similarity that would not translate over to most of our post-college jobs. A waiter, landscaper, and delivery driver are all direct labor employees. They are intimately involved in the output of the organization and physically see every day how the organization makes money and how they earn their salaries.

Some people who do, and many people who don’t, go to college have a plan that includes working as a direct labor employee for a longer period of time or sometimes for their entire working careers. That is a perfectly fine career path that can lead to the same successes that someone with a college degree can have. We are certainly not of the belief that everyone should go to college, and we’ll talk about that more in-depth at a later time.

The focus of this post, however, is on the experiences of people who are working as direct labor employees during their early college years before moving into roles that I would classify as overhead. As business majors working in finance and procurement, Christian and I, and many of our business major friends, definitely fall into that category at this point in our careers.

Let me throw out a disclaimer before we move on that this post is going to come across as very privileged and whiny if you do not share a similar work experience to mine. I am fully aware of that impression, and that in and of itself is a big contributing factor to why this is such an issue for many of us starting our careers.

Overhead is a Dirty Word

The transition from being a direct labor employee to an overhead employee is tough. For the 40+ hours per week you’re working, you want to make a difference. You care about your work and how it affects your organization. When you’re bringing the food to the customer, it’s pretty clear to see how your work helps the organization achieve its goals. When you’re negotiating a contract with a third-party company to mow the lawn for an oil company, the true impact is a little fuzzier.

This mental challenge is not easy to overcome. “I just want to work on projects that directly impact the business,” is a phrase I hear all too often at work. It’s a phrase I’ve even said myself a time or two. When you don’t see a clear causation between the work you’re doing and the success of the organization, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep doing what you’re doing. Your attitude may suffer, your output may suffer, and you will not realize your full potential or help the organization realize its full potential.

In order to be a successful employee contributing to a successful organization, you must find a way to overcome this challenge. This is something that I still struggle with from time to time, but I strive to bring my mentality back to two simple but pieces of advice that I’ve picked up from practice, observation, and prayer: have a heart to serve and be grateful.

Have a Heart to Serve

Having a heart to serve is an attribute that we can all benefit from in all aspects of our life. If we are serving others and fulfilling a need, then we are most likely not only helping them achieve their goals but working toward achieving our own goals as well. On top of that, serving others just makes you feel good. If you know at the end of each day that you have served and helped others and learn to appreciate that, then you will find satisfaction in your work and in your life.

I’m not saying you must absolutely say “yes” to everything everyone asks you to do. You must prioritize your service opportunities and figure out when to draw the line and push back on or decline a request. But at the end of the day, your goal in performing your work should be servicing the goals of your organization and the people in it to the best of your ability.

This goes for all types of employees. If you’re a door man with an opportunity to brighten people’s day every morning, take that opportunity to give them the most positive interactions they’ll have all day. Understand that you are making a difference in starting their day off in a positive manner. If you’re a procurement representative negotiating contracts with landscaping companies, give that contract your 100% focus and dedication during the time you allocate to working on it. Understand that you’re helping boost the morale of everyone who enters that facility and can take pride in working at a place which is now well kept and visually appealing outside.

If you are able to truly focus your mind and your heart on serving others through your work, you will be a top performer in your organization. Not only will that bring you some intrinsic satisfaction, but your management will probably notice. This will lead to additional opportunities down the road where you are able to work on projects and make decisions that ultimately allow you to have better visibility into their impact on the organization.

Be Grateful

Be grateful for the opportunities you have. Again, this is a concept that we can and should apply to many aspects of life beyond this very specific issue. I recently heard a Ted Talk from a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, who explains gratefulness much better than I could ever hope to.

If you are able to put life into perspective and be grateful for the opportunity to make the impact that you’re making, you’ll probably be more motivated to continue to make that impact and to make an even bigger impact. If you’re grateful for the opportunity to create that spreadsheet or track down that invoice, then you will be fully dedicated to it and will provide the most value you can to your organization given the opportunity in front of you. Again, this is something that will be noticed by management and will eventually lead to opportunities to work on projects with direct and visible impacts on the organization.

This is not something I’m perfect at, but I do try to think every day about everything I have to be grateful for. God has blessed me with so many gifts and opportunities that have allowed me to live a life that I love, receive an education that only 6.7% of the world has been lucky enough to receive, and experience all the amazing experiences that I have. I’m so grateful every day to continue to live this life with an able mind, body, and spirit although sometimes I do lose perspective of this more often than I should.

When I feel myself slipping into a negative mindset, I have to force myself to stop and think about all these reasons I have to be grateful. I look outside the window at my cubicle and think about how grateful I am to work in a nice office building when it’s raining or snowing outside (not that there’s anything wrong with working outside—it’s just not what I wanted to do). I think about how hard my grandparents and parents worked to help provide the opportunities they’ve provided for me and to get me where I am today.

Make Your Mark!

Although we sometimes romanticize or long for the days of being direct labor employees or at least of having that level of visibility into our impact on our organizations, we need to keep our jobs and the impact we make in perspective. If you are able to focus on the impact you are making and be the best at what you’re tasked to be, then you will get opportunities that become more and more impactful.


Do everything you can do to make your impact, and the value you provide will become more and more visible as you earn opportunities and gain trust from your organization to make decisions and work on initiatives to make larger impacts as you progress in your career.

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