Take Action On The Small Things
Culture is established by both communication and action. People will listen to what you say, but they will closely watch and emulate what you do. Action on large, highly visible initiatives will certainly make priorities and culture clear in a big way. However, it takes time to formulate and communicate large initiatives, plus it often takes time for the results to be achieved and visible. Action on small initiatives while larger actions are in progress can be very effective.
Good leaders interact with the organization at all levels and with cross-functional teams. Many times during these interactions, opportunities to take action on smaller issues will present themselves. These small opportunities are issues, changes, or decisions that can be addressed by a few of those directly involved without much involvement from the leader. They can solve small customer irritations, eliminate frustrations and inefficiencies in a process or a department, drive a decision or make a localized change. I am a big proponent of taking proper action on selected small opportunities. One of my favorite sayings is, “Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”
Here is why:
10 Major Benefits of Taking Action On Small Things
- Accelerates Empowerment and Learning: Action on small issues will build organizational confidence, get quick results and allow people to learn from mistakes that have smaller consequences and reduced visibility. It helps people cultivate their leadership.
- Teaches Delegation: When done correctly, implementing action on small changes teaches others how to delegate, how to decide who needs to be involved in developing action and approval, how to form a collaborative team and how to involve and grow others.
- Improves Accountability and Decisiveness: When a small team is empowered to take action on smaller decisions, they become more comfortable with accountability and find it easier to make decisions. Using smaller initiatives also provides decision-making experience for more people at many levels in the organization.
- Boosts Career Satisfaction: Since many small actions are localized to specific processes or departments, they can help remove daily irritations that hinder department or operational processes. At the same time, people learn that they can assume more responsibility and make a difference for the organization.
- Enhances Collaboration and Team Building: With more small actions, a larger number of people are able to participate in collaborative problem solving and work together with a variety of defined roles to implement change. The benefit is that more people in the organization can gain experience, grow and achieve results.
- Improves Communication: When a leader is able to initiate many small actions at different levels of the organization, or with various teams, it helps to “flatten” the organization, cut through bureaucracy and allow a larger population to see the leader in action. People become more comfortable communicating with the leader and each other. Additionally, small initiatives to implement change can get more people communicating who normally would not do so.
- Increases Leadership Credibility: When a leader initiates small actions that have rapid results, others will see that the communication about the desired culture is repeatedly demonstrated with actions. Successful repetition of actions that are consistent with the culture builds credibility.
- Accelerates Large Initiative Performance: After successful results from numerous small actions, the organization will have more confidence to undertake and engage in larger initiatives. More people have the opportunity to practice the required skills, become more efficient and deliver higher quality work. When asked to work on larger issues, they know how to perform.
- Bolsters Talent Assessment: Every leader needs to be able to assess talent in the organization or team to identify the desired skills for future assignments and performance feedback. Involving more people in the organization on smaller actions provides many opportunities to spot those who can successfully meet future needs of the organization. These may be high performers, great collaborators, those who see the larger picture, those who can get people to work together or those who can deliver solid work on time. Feedback becomes more specific and effective — especially if the organization uses a 360 process.
- Accomplishes More And Spreads The Word: The bottom line is that developing a habit of taking action on small things simply produces more improvements and provides many opportunities for others to get involved. It provides the organization with many examples of actions that reinforce communication to establish culture. The word will spread rapidly.
How-To’s, Do’s and Don’ts
To effectively reap the benefits of taking action on small things, here are some specific ways to do it correctly and what not to do:
- Ensure That The Action Is Small: The idea of a small action is one that addresses a local inefficiency, frustration or something that is holding people back. Ideally, the action can be developed and implemented by a small team of those who are most affected by a change. It should not be something that needs senior management review but can be approved quickly by those involved. Sometimes it is just a decision that is needed with input from affected parties. Solving customer problems is also a good place to spot opportunities. These actions should be of short duration including assessment, alternatives, decision and implementation.
- Don’t Overload The Organization: It is great to make decisions and take action, but be careful not to overload the organization or team with too many priorities at the same time. Organizations are like people: they lose effectiveness trying to do too many things simultaneously. Balance longer-term, larger initiatives with a number of small ones. If necessary, identify a small action and schedule it in the future to spread workload and attention.
- Tips To Be Effective: Always clearly define the task — the issue or problem to be addressed and the measures for success. Be sure to get the right people involved. Ask who will be affected by the change, who needs to agree with the decision and who needs to concur. Then identify a single leader to guide the effort. Appoint additional people for the effort if necessary and define their roles. Finally, empower the team to take the action within the guidelines. If you are not sure that the team will be able to implement without other guidance, ask them to either develop three alternatives for review or to check back with a final recommendation before implementation. Be sure to set a date for review, decision and completion.
- Do Not Lead Around Other Leaders: When a potential action is identified through interaction with various parts of an organization or team, be careful not to usurp the authority of other leaders who may be responsible to implement the change. If necessary, instead of acting at the time, simply make note of the situation, ask a few questions, then work through the appropriate leader to do what is necessary later.
Taking action on small issues, while keeping larger initiatives in focus, really is a big thing:
- Actions that reinforce communication about the desired culture are more frequent.
- More people in the organization can grow.
- A larger number of improvements can be implemented.
- An empowered workplace can be achieved more rapidly.
The leader’s efforts can be multiplied and, at the same time, others in the organization will be more satisfied. Plus, as a friend who operated his own successful business for years pointed out, “If you take action on small issues, you will have fewer big ones!”