Is Your Organization Missing a C?

As the cliché goes, little things mean a lot. Recently, I returned to a beach resort I had visited back in the spring. In my previous visit, I noticed that the “C” on the gateway sign to the tennis facility – the Racquet Club – was missing. Who knows why – maybe it fell off due to age, maybe it was accidentally knocked off by a landscaper, maybe it was removed by a “mischievous youth” as part of a summer prank – but it really doesn’t matter because these things happen, right?

No question, but what also happens at first class resorts is that these things get fixed, usually in very short order. After all, it’s pretty simple – take a few minutes to hang the “C” back up. However, at this particular resort, which has struggled for years to differentiate itself from other, more prominent nearby vacation spots, if you want to play tennis, still many months later, you go to the “Racquet  lub.” On the surface, a seemingly minor point, but it sure makes you wonder how much effort they put into other details, such as cleaning, food service, etc. If you want to be known as a high-end, exclusive resort, there’s just no room for this kind of slackness.

Most folks agree that changing a culture is one of the toughest tasks you can take on as a leader; however, if you have the wrong culture, you can’t shy away from making the adjustments. One of the toughest assignments of my career was to turn around the culture of a services company that was by all accounts underperforming (especially from the perspective of the angry customers). After a period of assessment, we found that the company had no discernible common culture overall and that, what micro-cultures were there, trended negatively. As a result, we set out on a broad transformation project to build a quality and service-based culture around a set of common core values. Readers of these pages have seen postings before about that macro change process and how it works. The missing “C” reminded me, however, of the importance of making sure you also attend to the micro, almost subtle details in your transformation effort and in your daily management thereafter.

Recently I had the privilege of touring one of our GWI partners’ manufacturing facility (a fascinating and uplifting experience – contrary to popular belief, we do build a lot of cool stuff here in the U.S.A. with skilled, happy workers – but that’s a topic for another day). As we walked the floor, I paid close attention to the gaze and mannerisms of the supervisor/tour guide – he was constantly scanning the environment to make sure all of those little, seemingly minor details were top of mind. Making sure the safety guy had his radio clipped to his belt rather than leaving it on the table nearby. Asking the assembler to move his ladder to a different side of the assembly so it was out of the way (and less likely for someone to trip over its legs). Helping another assembler organize her hand tools in the most efficient way.

In a big manufacturing facility, these aren’t little things – they are tiny things. Why bother? Answer: “Because I tell my people it’s all about Safety, Quality . . . and then Productivity. We do things the right way here.” The supervisor didn’t yell, chide or scold, but he did make sure that his employees’ behavior in all respects conformed to his overall cultural goals.

As the dramatic real estate market fluctuations buffeted my last company, one of my Board members advised me that, no matter what, every day I had to exude confidence, to project to our workforce that I believed in my heart that things were going to work out and to show that in my behavior and mannerisms. Sage advice. Every day, no matter how bad I felt from staying awake all night agonizing over layoffs, struggling with uncertainty, and dealing with the regret of lost opportunity, rather than rolling out of bed late and “going casual,” I got up, put the tie on, and walked uprightly into work bright and early. While we still had to deal with layoffs, uncertainty and regret, we were also able to provide quality services and satisfy customers.

Culture – both and in the broad, macro, Core Value sense and in the micro, behavioral, seemingly nitpicky detail sense – provides the margin between success and failure. Leaders don’t have to (and in my opinion shouldn’t) be maniacal or ill-mannered like some CEO’s of recent fame, however, to be successful, they do have to insist that their organizations pay attention to detail and do things the right way, no matter what the circumstances. How you deal with the “C” in your organization speaks volumes about what you want your organization to be. Paying attention to detail made the difference for us and for the organizations of those famous CEO’s (the one that paid the most attention to detail likely made the smartphone that’s in your pocket).

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

About Denis

Business Leader, Consultant & Social Entrepreneur. Proven senior executive leader with deep experience guiding companies throughout various lifecycle phases including start-up, rapid growth and maturity. Principal of YellowPark Garden, providing executive leadership expertise and assistance in economic and societal development initiatives.
This entry was posted in Career Growth & Management, Leadership & Management, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Is Your Organization Missing a C?

  1. Love the metaphor of the missing “C” — as you noted, the impression created by an oft-overlooked yet seemingly trivial missing letter can ultimately be the difference between a good resort experience…and a FABULOUS resort experience. Great post! 🙂

    • Denis says:

      Hey, thanks! And when we’re enjoying our precious free time at a resort, anything less than FABULOUS just doesn’t cut it! Thanks for your note!

  2. So very true, and this also applies to nations, states, cities and families. Any structured organization can benefit from such advise as you have given. Thank you for posting. 🙂

  3. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed – Great post – Enjoyed the read – Thank you

  4. Very well written article. It reinforced my own recent observations about how I have been managing my business lately – I can see I am missing the C… and for sure afer a while, you simply stop paying attention. This is dangerous to business growth. You have just inspired me to get my act together with some of the small details I have been missing out! Thank you!

  5. Grumpa Joe says:

    Excellent advice. As a Chief Engineer in the Product Engineering Department of a mid-size company I learned early that paying attention to the most minute details makes a huge difference in the way products perform. That also required people who paid attention to those details. Teaching the details became an integral part of my role in the company. I lasted forty years producing a World Class product that continues to do well because of the attention to the “C”.

  6. Lloyd says:

    C: insightful but sooo true. An excellent reminder.

  7. Marty says:

    In the middle of changing culture at my company. Definitely time consuming. We are five years into it and I would say only 35% there!

  8. TTTFanSarah says:

    Well said! Too often, organizations get caught up in the “big picture” and neglect the little things that seem to make a huge difference. As a detail-oriented person, it drives me nuts when people ignore something simply because they don’t value it. The way I see it, everything an organization does matters. As for the “C” metaphor–when I was in middle school (Pella Middle School), I can’t tell you how many times I drove by the sign that said “Ella Iddle Chool”. Hardly a good representative of a town that is supposed to be pristine in every other way! Thank you for your advice!

    • Denis says:

      Hey, thanks for your note. Totally agree with your comment that everything an organization does counts. Companies are just like people – they’re born, they grow, they succeed, they fail, and (unfortunately) at some point they die too. Most folks don’t leave the house in the morning without combing their hair – neither should a company that cares about itself and its future!

  9. Excellent advice. Whether you’re a manager or supervisor in your organisation or not, I’ve always believed that to be a leader you need to model the behaviour you want to see in others.

    By the way, I love your logo (I have a thing for trees).

  10. Raunak says:

    Super like! I am obsessed with checking out details of construction of a 5 star hotel or a good restaurant when I enter one.While sitting on a table my eyes wander to the flooring and the wall tiling to see if the alignment of every piece is on the dot. Its so important to nurture a culture of quality. If only everyone was born with it, things would be so much easier.
    I think the best way to spread such a culture is exposure. I attribute my attention to detail to my stay in Finland where I saw it live in action.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed 🙂

    • Denis says:

      Hey, thanks so much for your note. If you read the Jobs bio, you’ll see a lot of other examples in there. I do think that certain people have a proclivity towards quality and customer service; however, those behaviors can & should be trained and managed. Thereafter, if folks still don’t get it, we should be happy to help them find the next iteration of their career. 🙂

  11. Emmaline Sydney says:

    Thanks for the post! Great points! My husband just got his MBA, and we talk about business a lot together. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  12. It's only P! says:

    Indeed, taking Care of the C makes all the difference!

  13. mrnobodyswife says:

    Reblogged this on The Adventures of Mrs Nobody.

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