Small stuff, big picture

There was a TV advert at some point between the late 90s and a few years ago, I can’t remember when exactly, or even what it was for (if you can, please do tell!). What I do remember was that it offered the advice ‘don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff’.  Life advice attributable to Richard Carlson in his 1997 book, and advice that struck a chord with me since I’m pretty highly strung, a worrier, someone who likes things just so, the one who always gets Monica in the ‘Which Friend are you’ quiz.

I’ve been encouraged, and subsequently encouraged my teams and clients, to see the big picture and think strategically rather than get bogged down in the detail.

In life, as well as work, I’m all for keeping perspective and not getting overwhelmed. Age and parenthood have helped me (though I believe there are easier ways!) However, I wonder if the almost implicit understanding that the higher we climb the career ladder the less ‘tactical’ we become, is actually excusing some poor leadership behaviours that impact significantly, and negatively on the employee experience and engagement.

Sometimes the small stuff does matter

Some of us remember the nursery rhyme about the horseshoe nail, a causality tale of how a kingdom was defeated due to a horse losing a nail in its shoe. The rhyme tells the consequences of each little thing that goes wrong, as each seemingly small event has an impact that snowballs to disaster.

To me, employee engagement seems to be similarly precariously positioned.

As leaders we must consider the impact our actions have on those we lead, coach and develop. Not just the big actions, but the little things. Some years ago, one of my direct reports fed back in my appraisal that I could be ‘a bit grumpy’, which although admittedly true, knocked me for six when I considered the impact that my irritability had on him and others in the team!

Those little things. Each time we postpone or cancel a one-to-one in favour of another meeting; each time we’re running late and don’t have time to discuss a topic or give feedback; each time we’re in the middle of a call and don’t acknowledge a colleague walk past; when we’re engrossed in something and fail to say good morning as someone arrives in the office; and indeed, each time we neglect to thank or recognise great work or extra effort, or just let our own bad mood influence the office atmosphere.

Each time, there is an invisible but inevitable erosion of the relationship between us and our team.  And no business-wide engagement initiative can repair that fundamental breakdown.

Of course we’re not all perfect, there are times when we all screw up, and in the grand scheme of things these little incidents may not matter, but if we all paid a little bit more attention to the ‘small things’ sometimes, maybe the big picture would be a more engaging one.