And then the problems started.
We talk a lot about systems, employee engagement, the war for talent, best practices and so on. These are all important and deserve our attention.
We don't talk much of the small stage however. The day to day interactions our work lives are made of and why they matter.
Big is Sexy
Talking about big stuff – leadership, vision, out of the box thinking – is sexy and exciting. In fact the wilder your ideas the more visionary you can seem.
When the guys at Enron became infamous through the use of mark to market accounting (booking profits when ideas were conceived as opposed to when sales occurred) they told people who couldn't understand their financials they weren't smart enough to “get it.”
The book, the Secret was exciting largely because it was impenetrable.
Complex, impenetrable stuff can seem big and sexy as we clamor to pretend we get it.
But big is not where sustained profits, brands and companies are made. And let's be clear: success is sustaining.
Small is Smart
Rational people given choice tend to make rational decisions. Its the small stuff that makes us choose one provider vs another. Often this choice is service and attention to detail, not product or price.
Retail is a good proxy as you can use your own experience to see how little steps well executed can make and even extend a sale. One Starbucks vs another, one clothes store over a competitor, this grocer not a second.
Yet the corporate side of life has a lot of lessons too.
Last week one person I work with cancelled two meeting with just hours notice after much preparation while another set a meeting, started on time, and heaven forbid, ended early when the topic was fleshed out. Whom do I believe will use my time better in the future (and thus get on my calendar?)
One comp person I call gives me quick answers, cites policy or practice and is pleasant. Another complains about workload, pay, etc. Whom would you call?
Attorneys I deal with run the range from lunatic fringe psychobabblers to relevant and reliable ones who can read both a calendar and watch. Uh, I'll choose B.
In HR we love to deride the transactional (or outsource it) but don't kid yourself: life is transactional.
There's nothing wrong with the next big thing but let's not overlook the thousands of small and discrete steps – transactions – that make the difference.
Henry Ford and Steve Jobs had vision. They were also maniacally focused on detail, the small steps and unseen parts of day to day work.
The quickest and most sustained way to improve service, brand and yes, profit, is to pay attention to the little things. Contrary to popular thought we should sweat the small stuff.
In a world where the next big thing is all we hear about, our power to make a difference can seem minimal. Yet you can make that difference today by doing the small things really well.
Because in the end, nothing we do is really small.