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Impact Reporting

How you can be accurate AND aspirational in your impact

Impact indicators are growing more sophisticated each year. This is great if you’re serious about improving your impact – what’s the point of benchmarking vague or imprecise topics? If you’re proactive and create a comprehensive impact strategy that takes your entire organizational footprint into consideration, impact reporting is a great opportunity to learn what you’re doing well and where you’re falling short.

Where do things go wrong? Aspiring to be an impact leader does not mean you are one. It’s admirable to want great outcomes for your organization, but good intentions are insufficient. When it comes time to report on your progress, you could find that your aspirations far outpace the progress you’ve actually made. How can you strive ambitiously toward impact leadership while still being honest about your results?

These following three steps will put you on the right path: 1) cover your fundamentals, 2) ask yourself clarifying questions, 3) engage a mindful impact reporting process.

SDG color wheel with icons inside circle

Let’s start with covering your fundamentals. These are so basic they might not be on your radar:

Admit that you’re not an expert

It’s OK that you don’t have time to become a subject matter expert. Because the impact field is highly changeable due to constant influxes of new data and regulations, you might mistake dynamism for free rein to throw your perspective in the mix. Having interest in a topic simply isn’t sufficient. Simply hire a professional and rest assured that you aren’t making false claims.

Don’t genericize or rely on euphemisms

In some cases, nomenclature differs across regions or industries. For example, in North America, sometimes the word “diversity” is used as a euphemism for “race,” but these two terms are not synonymous and treating them as the same will almost certainly lead to inaccuracies. Another example is using catch-all phrases like “environmental sustainability” when something more specific applies. Perhaps you’re actually referring to carbon offsets to mitigate scope 1 emissions. Choose words with care and provide definitions if needed.

Sometimes the word “diversity” is used as a euphemism for “race,” but these two terms are not synonymous.

Be aware of power dynamics, particularly with people who you’re paying

If you hire an external auditor or “in house” expert, give them free rein to dig through your proverbial dirty laundry. Then, reward accuracy over vanity. If you’re micromanaging your impact expert or implying that their livelihood may be in jeopardy if they don’t make you “look good,” they may be tempted to alter the data to appease you. Graciously accept the insights your impact expert offers you, even if you’re alarmed by some of the information. Now that we’ve covered a few fundamentals, let’s move on to clarifying questions that will help you understand the role of aspiration within your impact reporting.

Ask yourself the following: Is impact reporting a vanity project and/or the core of my marketing campaign?

Aspiration is a powerful driver when it’s genuine. You simply need to check in with yourself to ensure that your approach is actually aspirational and not self-aggrandizement in disguise. Ask yourself the following:

  • What’s inspiring my aspiration?
  • Is impact reporting a vanity project and/or the core of my marketing campaign?
  • Am I eager to embrace the complex lessons — some of which may be hard to swallow — that impact reporting can teach me?
  • Do I understand that being an impact leader requires humility, receptivity, and some growing pains?
  • Do I understand that impact strategy isn’t “political” and is closely aligned with long-term organizational success?

To be accurate and aspirational, you’ll need to be humble and embrace the process, regardless of whether you “look good” or not. If you cover these questions and determine you are indeed experiencing true aspiration, move on to the final step.

Wood block circle in four colorful sections

Here are 4 cornerstones of mindful impact reporting:

  1. Honest trajectory – Embrace your learning process. Be specific about where you started, where you hope to go, and what it’ll take to achieve your aspirations.
  2. According to whom? – Rely on 3rd party verification and anonymous feedback from broad stakeholder groups. Don’t rely on your own interpretation.
  3. Take full responsibility – Don’t blame others. Refrain from excuses like “we would hit XYZ benchmark if it were possible, it’s simply not realistic in this market.” Excuses are almost always an example of not being an impact expert. There are proven technologies and methodologies for achieving success in virtually all impact topics and it’s simply a matter of getting out of the way so an expert can run a pilot project for you.
  4. Compensate for results, not rhetoric – Tie comp directly to outcomes. There is no substitute for showing that impact progress is a priority.

Whether you’re a veteran or new to impact reporting, these steps will help you balance your accuracy with your aspiration. You can absolutely be precise while creating bold visions for impressive impact futures – just be sure to engage a mindful, honest process.

Dr. Sara Murdock, an Impact Entrepreneur Correspondent, is a globally known expert in organizational power dynamics. Dr. Murdock serves as a pioneer in the field of People & Culture, with a focus on building cultures of innovation, inclusive Leadership Development, and aligning organizational objectives with actual Social Impact. She has ... Read more
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