Archive for January, 2014

Small Steps Get Big and Consistent Results

Posted on January 27, 2014. Filed under: expectations, Leadership and teams, personal leadership |

This past week I have really been struck by the message that “Doing the small things will save time and money”.

It fits every part of life

– keep your garden trimmed and it is not as big, time (and energy) consuming or expensive to get it in shape.

– eat food that is good for you every day and exercise moderately and there’s no need for fad diets etc

– communicate clearly and often with loved ones to build and maintain those good relationships and trust.

Thinking about work,

– do the filing and email clean up weekly rather than waiting for that quiet time over Christmas (that never seems to arrive anymore! and is also such a big horrid task to tackle that it seems better to just leave it)

– keep in regular contact with suppliers and clients so that when you have a big question to ask, it does not come out of the blue and feel to both of you like you only call when you have a favour to ask

So why don’t more leaders give frequent feedback to their teams?

Let’s think about that a bit more. If a leader gives small and frequent doses of feedback to their teams then people will know what is expected from them, how well they are doing, what results they are getting and how well the team and company are doing. It is also like any human relationship – build up the small pieces to build trust and rapport and that avoids the impression that you only have really good or bad news to share.

I realise that sometimes leaders are so busy doing all the tasks of their management role that the small, yet important things, slip to the back of the queue until they build up, or until they are finally scheduled.There are so many issues and people demanding attention from you every day (and sometimes well after hours) that it feels like you are pulled from pillar to post.

Even so, the delay between contact can create more work for you and so saving a few minutes here and there can then require hours later on.

Let me share the event that caused this train of thought for me, and it serves as a non work analogy.

Late last year was a busy time for me, and one of the things that slipped to the back of the queue of things I do was washing my car. Now that might not seem all that important, and I thought it was ok too.

I own a dark grey car and the dirt didn’t rally show up that much – or so I told myself.
My car does however have nice shiny silver alloy wheels. Well at least they are nice and shiny when they are clean. By the end of 2013  were the same dark dull shade as the now dirty paint work. In fact they did look pretty bad, but I knew that it was going to now be a really big job to clean them and so I left it. (yep, doing nothing never makes anything better)

And still I thought I could leave it until I had time.

Naturally something happened to shake me out of that approach of doing nothing – I got a flat tyre.

And yes the spare wheel was shiny and clean.

So I had one clean wheel and three grubby ones on my car.  Hmm, can you think of a better way to make it obvious that my car really needed a good clean?
That one shiny wheel really made it obvious that my car was desperately in need of a wash. Or at least the wheels were.
So one day I sat down and cleaned one wheel.   It took about 40 minutes and I was exhausted, but now I had two clean and two dirty wheels. So I went back the next day and cleaned the other two dirty wheels and yes it took about 40 minutes  each wheel. And I was exhausted at the end of it. It was hard work out in the summer sun, but it really could not wait any longer.
The rest of the car stayed dirty – cleaning the wheels was enough hard work, so the paintwork could wait. For about another week when I thought I should go to the car wash and do it properly. Now I have a shiny car again. That took a bit of effort too, and I decided that I need to keep my car clean during 2014 and be more frequent in my washing.

Now the interesting thing is that I go to a self serve car wash where I put in a dollar at a time to pre soak, spray wash, rinse and  spot free rinse my car. Yep, a full car wash for four dollars. Nice work. Sometimes if the car is dirty I need to use the foaming brush (another dollar) and this time I had to do two rounds of the high pressure soap to get the grime off (another dollar) and then the high pressure rinse needed a second application to clear off the suds (another dollar)

So my car wash that usually costs me four dollars turned into seven, but I was still pleased that I had washed the car.

And then I looked at my shiny car and those wheels that had been shiny by comparison, but now I could see the places that I had missed. Because it had taken so much effort to get rid of the major grime, I had missed the fine details. Those wheels still weren’t quite right.

I got home and decided to wash each wheel properly. Two buckets of water – one with soapy water and a brush and another bucket of clean water and a sponge. About an hour later I was done and the wheels looked fantastic. As did the rest of the car.
Fantastic. Brilliant. I had properly cleaned those wheels in about 15 minutes each – faster and better than the last time because I had less grime to get through. It was a smaller task that I was tackling.
In terms of the theme of this post, so far it has cost me not a lot of money but several hours of my time. And there are a few points that are really relevant for effective leadership.
I decided that I would schedule a little time each month to wash my car so it never builds up that crusty, stubborn layer of grime again.Earlier this week I had about 15 minutes between meetings and went to wash my car. And guess what? Because it has been less than a month since it was last washed, it took me about 3 minutes and cost only two dollars at my usual place.
Half the money.

That sounds like a good principle – schedule in your own diary to have small informal catch ups with your people – mark it in your diary and then do a walk around the site, or sit in the lunch room with people, or walk around briefly chatting with each team member.
Small regular attention prevents build up of any angst, and hence you have fewer issues to deal with and the ones you do can be cleansed pretty quickly. If you speak with people regularly they may mention something that is annoying them, but if you leave it a month or two it may have escalated to be a real concern and serious issue.
Any money that you need to invest will be spent on fewer issues and so it will cost less. You may buy staff s morning tea at the end of a busy project or month or after a big win and they feel part of the company and appreciated.  If they feel appreciated during the year they wont be expecting all of your appreciation to be shown in their salary review. And if you need to invest in coaching or training to develop skills, improving the small skills may be what is needed to prevent things blowing up into big issues that need legal attention and time off.

And if you address things early they will not generally get any bigger, and so you spend less and avoid the later problems. By cleaning my car wheels more often there is less build up of road grime to be cleaned off and so the job is easier and takes less effort.

Approaching tasks when they are small gives you a greater sense of satisfaction and reduces the anxiety or dread that you may feel. I can tell you that the thought of washing those wheels was really off putting because I had left it to the point where it was a big tasks, needing lots of effort, energy and time. And who has loads of that to spare?  Now I am committed to going back to the way I used to keep on top of keeping my car clean so the task of washing is not so much a dreaded chore but becomes a time to relax and do something I enjoy. Talk to your staff regularly and you will build rapport and you may enjoy catching up with them, whereas if you leave it until there is a problem both of you will dread the conversation that is to come.
Yes it may seem odd that washing my car created this analogy, and yet it seems a good fit.

US Hall of Fame coach/player John Wooden sums it up best “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

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