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.