Little Things Make Big Things HappenMar 30, 2021
Sometimes in my personal or professional life, I need to intentionally pause to notice the things that I have become blind to. For example, the other day, I received birthday gifts. Among them were some nice sleeping bags and camping gear. These gifts have stayed where they were opened—right smack dab in the middle of my living room. The first few days I knew I had to move them, but I was busy and put it off. Soon, my eyes were no longer drawn to them. By week two, they had just become part of the furniture. They were completely out of sight and out of mind.
This same example has been manifested this past year in my virtual office world. When I began working from home, I wore jeans. Then I went to sweatpants. Ultimately, I was wearing shorts and slippers. Comfort ruled the day. Fast forward a year to an actual face-to-face meeting where I had to put on a suit. Let me tell you the experience was tough for me, but even tougher for that poor suit. Pounds had crept on when I wasn’t paying attention. As we like to say in my house, “That suit was working HARD.”
In both of these examples, a slippery slope of inattention led to outcomes that no longer reflected my intentions. It was time for me to take action. Huge, aggressive, grandiose deeds were not needed. Simple, micro-actions could help change the environment or arrested behaviour to move me back in line with my values. Sometimes we get too comfortable. We let small things slide and don’t notice the impact they’re having on our leadership, our environment and the overall health of our culture.
I had achieved a high level of success after five or seven years in my first significant role of leadership. My supervisors were happy with my work. I received praise. The department had accomplished many impressive goals. I felt like we had a very strong work culture. But, I knew there was still another level we could get to, but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. I was so immersed within the organization that I could not clearly view the challenges and snags that might be hindering our department from moving towards their greatness.
I needed to bring in an external perspective. Fresh eyes to assess how we were operating revealed opportunities for improvement. The report, Little Things Make the Big Things Happen, set us on a path to becoming a truly high-performance culture.
We were a finely tuned machine, but to move from a grade of 85% to 99% (I don’t believe anyone is perfect.), I needed to focus on the little things.
The lesson I learned was that if you find yourself a few years into your leadership and you’ve implemented some of the heavy moves, your work isn’t done. There is another level you can raise your leadership to, if you don’t settle and become content with ‘good enough’ and are willing to open yourself to an outside critique.
Tiny, micro-actions can make a huge difference in helping you move towards excellence.
Here are just a few simple micro-actions that have stayed with me all these years:
1) Get everyone in the same room.
Too often, I would have one meeting to introduce an initiative then follow up with another meeting. These meetings would be followed with hallway meetings. Eventually, there was danger of losing sight of the initial vision—it would be like the game broken telephone. Time was wasted checking for clarity of message amongst sub-groups, or sometimes we went in the completely wrong direction. I can’t emphasize enough how simple this might seem and how effective and efficient it makes the organization.
2) Schedule your routine meetings months in advance.
What a difference this had on morale across our team. Folks were often missing meetings because they were already booked with their own work. They felt like two weeks was not enough time. My team felt heard when we scheduled meetings far in advance so they could accommodate their schedules. I had to get past my defensive thinking that two weeks was more than enough time for my team to accommodate me. But it wasn’t about what I needed, it was about what was best for a high-performance culture.
3) Agendas out early.
I’m not a big agenda person—it’s just not the way my mind works. But I have learned to make this a priority. It’s not enough to have an agenda on the day of the meeting. You need to get the agenda out early so people can come prepared to the meetings with their thoughts gathered and participate in a rich discourse on the topics at hand.
I have learned that early agendas lead to greater strategic thinking.
4) Establish a communication protocol.
Our team felt that emails went into a great dark abyss. Emails would be sent, and there would be no response. We set a team-wide email protocol of responding within 48 hours. This doesn’t mean that you have to solve the issue within 48 hours; but, as a courtesy, you need to respond with a, ‘Thank you,’ ‘Got it,’ or ‘Will follow up by [this date].’ As simple as this sounds, it allows people to feel acknowledged.
None of these four micro-actions are huge, sweeping epiphanies. For me they were impactful at that time of my leadership. You may be well past the specific examples I’ve just shared with you. However, I would be willing to bet there are simple inactions or snags that you have become blind to. If you can take a moment to really reflect or seek external input, you could tidy and tighten your leadership and workplace culture. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard to receive critical feedback. Like any high performer, I prefer to be excellent. But if we can let go of ego to focus on people and organization, we will create a high-performance culture where everyone can thrive.
Good luck, and remember, it’s the little things that make the big things happen.