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Personal Impact Analysis
Consider the consequences of your actions
Wikipedia says change impact analysis means "identifying the potential consequences of a change, or estimating what needs to be modified to accomplish a change." When businesses conduct a change impact analysis, they’re looking at not just the potential rewards of taking a certain action - they’re also looking at the risks. Things don’t always go as planned, so it’s best to be prepared for the downside too.
There are all sorts of complex tools and techniques for conducting a change impact analysis in the business world and, if it’s applicable to your career, I strongly encourage you to learn how to use them and make sure you understand them. (And yes, “using” and “understanding” are two very different things.) But the idea that we should intentionally examine the potential consequences of our actions is a damn good one!
Why it matters:
Even if your job or career doesn’t require use of formal change impact analysis tools, the concept of the impact analysis - identifying potential consequences - is still very valuable for Relaxed Leaders to use as they make decisions and take actions to drive positive change. They say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” because we can’t just think good thoughts - we have to take action as well. Similarly, I would posit that some of the pavement on the road to hell comes from well-intentioned actions that weren’t completely thought through. We start with a good intention, decide to finally take action, and then everything goes sideways.
Relaxed Leaders understand that life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. Even the most thoughtful plans and the best of intentions can run into problems, be met with significant resistance, and/or have unintended consequences. Learning to do a “personal impact analysis” before taking action is a skill that can be applied in many situations, large and small, and it’s fairly easy to learn.
How to practice:
First, recognize that this is one tool among many and is not always appropriate for the task at hand. Taking the time to truly think through potential consequences follows the maxim, “Look before you leap.” Just because it’s a swimming pool, don’t assume there’s water in it. And make sure you’re not going to land on people already in the pool. You get the idea.
But sometimes it’s more appropriate to follow the maxim, “He who hesitates is lost.” Depending upon the situation, we may not have the luxury of pausing and thinking before we have to act. As I said, the personal impact analysis is only one tool in your toolbox, so you have to start by learning when it’s appropriate to use and when you just need to act quickly and make the decision you believe is best.
Second, you need to think beyond yourself. As a small example, if I’m trying to convince someone to join an effort I’m leading, I’m very careful about what I say to them via email. I try to imagine what it will sound like to THEM. Based on their experience, how will it be perceived? And if they misinterpret what I’ve said, how might it come across? And what will I have to do to clarify the message? How much damage will a misunderstanding cause?
Yes, that seems like a lot of work for a single email but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The hard part is to think beyond yourself and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Finally, when considering an action with a larger impact, you need to identify all the stakeholders and determine the impact on each. And again, you need to get out of your own head and try to get into theirs. Just because YOU see a change as being good, remember that it’s still a change - and most people don’t like change! In the business world, any significant change tends to initially slow us down. We’re not familiar with the new tool or process, so it takes us longer than it did before. This is bad (in our eyes). So if you think people might react that way, then how do you get to them ahead of time and set appropriate expectations? How do you get them on board with the change, and thus with the long-term efficiencies and improvements you believe the change will drive?
What to watch out for:
Like any skill, doing a personal impact analysis takes practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll become IF you learn as you go. Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It’s a witticism designed to highlight the futility of continuing to do something that isn’t working well and just hoping things will improve. However, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is also the definition of “practice.” Repetition often helps us improve, whether from “muscle memory,” developing stronger neural pathways, or by simply allowing us to do something from memory without having to review the instructions.
Practice won’t necessarily make perfect - but it will help you improve!
The bottom line:
When Relaxed Leaders take the time to consider the potential consequences of our actions - especially actions intended to drive positive change - we can save ourselves a lot of heartache and aggravation down the road. As we improve at doing the personal impact analysis, we’ll get better at identifying potential problems and making adjustments to account for them. We’ll also learn to more fully consider the opinions and needs of others. It’s hard to simply “label and dismiss” someone when we’ve taken the time to see the world from their perspective and understand how our actions will impact their lives.