Okinyo Mark

Executive Leadership

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Okinyo Mark

Executive Leadership

Marketing Strategy

Product & Operations

My Reflections

The 3 Levels of Work & Why You Need Them

January 15, 2023 Career Development
The 3 Levels of Work & Why You Need Them

Introduction on the 3 levels of work

About 10 years ago when I was still very early in my career, I started noticing that those who were the most technically gifted at work did not necessarily get the recognition they deserved for their results while the people that received the accolades and admiration were not necessarily the greatest when it came to execution. I would later come to learn that the difference was in how these two groups of people presented themselves.

3 years later, I was going through management training and our facilitator said something that I thought was very profound at the time. She said,

“There are 3 kinds of people at any workplace:

  • Those who know ‘The What’
  • Those who know ‘The How’,
  • and those who know ‘The Why’.”

She continued,

  • The people who know the what: These are the people who mostly get the job. They are the kind that will talk their way into the top of any recruitment list even if they are not the best candidate for the position.
  • The people who know the how: These are the individuals who get the job done, they are usually your hardest workers or the most skilled employees.
  • Then there are the people that know the why: These are the people that employ the first two groups of people.
” She would then she pause and ask us, “Where do you want to belong?”.

Over the course of my career, I would come to appreciate that the job market is an extremely competitive battleground. For an individual to have a competitive edge in their chosen career path, it is essential for them to understand the 3 levels of work and how they can impact career growth. These levels can be broadly categorized into three main areas: Impact, Execution, and Optics.

1. Impact Work

Impact work refers to the strategic and high-level tasks that an individual performs in their role. This includes setting goals, identifying key performance indicators, and making strategic decisions that drive the organization’s success. Impact work is essential for career growth because it allows individuals to demonstrate their value to the organization and take on leadership roles. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, managers who focused on impact work were found to be more effective leaders and had higher levels of job satisfaction. Real-world examples of impact work include creating a new business strategy, developing a new product, or leading a company-wide initiative.

2. Execution Work

Execution work, on the other hand, refers to the day-to-day tasks that are necessary to achieve the goals set by impact work. These tasks include project management, problem-solving, and implementing solutions. Execution work is crucial for career growth because it allows individuals to demonstrate their ability to deliver results and manage projects effectively. A study by McKinsey found that companies with effective execution capabilities were found to be more profitable and grew faster than their peers. Real-world examples of execution work include managing a project, solving a complex problem, or implementing a new process. As renowned business leader, Jack Welch said, “Execution is the job of the business leader.”

3. Optics Work

Finally, optics work refers to the way an individual presents themselves and their work to others. This includes communication, networking, and building relationships. Optics work is important for career growth because it allows individuals to build their personal brand and create opportunities for advancement. According to a study by Forbes, networking is the most effective way for individuals to find new job opportunities. Real-world examples of optics work include building a personal brand, networking, and building relationships with key stakeholders. As renowned business leader, Richard Branson said, “Your network is your net worth.”

Interconnection of all three levels of work

It’s important to note that all three levels of work are interconnected and impact each other. For example, a strong personal brand can help an individual secure a leadership role, which in turn allows them to set strategic goals and make impactful decisions. Similarly, strong execution skills can help an individual deliver results that positively impact the organization, which can lead to better optics.

Balancing all 3 levels of work to achieve career growth

To achieve career growth, individuals should focus on developing skills in all three areas. However, it’s important to find a balance so as not to neglect any one area of work. For example, an individual who is great at execution but poor at optics may not get the recognition they deserve.

One idea to consider is to develop a “career growth plan” that outlines specific goals, strategies, and actions for developing skills in each level of work. This plan can serve as a roadmap for an individual’s professional development, and help them stay focused and motivated.

Role of Technology on Each Level of Work

When following your career growth plan, it is important to consider the role of technology and how it impacts each level of work. For example, the use of project management tools can streamline execution work, while social media can be leveraged to build a personal brand and strengthen optics. Understanding and utilizing technology can give an individual a competitive edge in the job market. A study by Deloitte found that digital literacy is a key skill for job seekers in today’s market.

Personal Experience

It is only when I understood the 3 levels of work – Impact, Execution, and Optics – and how they impact career growth, that I was able to use them to my advantage and come out with actionable objectives for my own professional growth. By developing skills in all three areas, I was able to take charge of my own professional growth – You can do the same!

When you’re starting off, you will only be known by the quality of your execution and the transactional work that you do. Overtime, you will need to put yourself out there and be more visible if you don’t want opportunities to pass you by. Happy growing folks!

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