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Sweat the small stuff to survive in life and business

Submitted by on Thursday, 7 October 2010No Comment

WHAT little detail that you overlooked has come back to haunt you? How many times have you said to yourself: “If only I had signed (or not signed)…. If only I had said (or not said)…?” If only.

On July 25 2000, Concorde flight AF4590 took off from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport headed for New York. As it neared the end of its takeoff run, the jetliner, without an accident in its 30-year history, struck a 40cm piece of metal with one of its wheels, causing the tyre to shred and throw a piece of rubber into the fabric fuel tank under the wing.

The plane limped along at a dangerously low altitude until finally crashing into a hotel in the town of Gonesse, killing all 109 people on board .

It goes without saying: the piece of metal should never have been on the runway.

We overlook the little things at our peril. In every aspect of our lives, it is the little things that count.

Think about relationships. It is rarely a partner’s political views or religious beliefs that lead to irretrievable breakdowns. It is rather the little things that are, or become, the problem.

Like termites, the little irritations eat away at the foundations of relationships and before they know it people are shouting at each other over why the toilet seat wasn’t left down .

With the shouting comes a loss of intimacy and gradually the whole setup slowly, but relentlessly, spirals downward .

But it is in the workplace that sweating the small stuff becomes even more important. It is not the big things that usually bring businesses down, but the little oversights and indiscretions that drive customers – the life blood of any business – away.

Why would you ever change your bank? Not because of the way they calculate interest and capital repayments on your 20-year mortgage, but because they don’t have enough tellers on duty during lunch hour.

I asked Saki Macozoma what he thought the most important habit in business was. “Attention to detail,” he said. “I have always learned to apply myself to detail. Then no one can come and tell me that stuff that is not true, because I know the detail.”

Rugby World Cup winner Joel Stransky told me about his first meeting with coach Kitch Christie. Christie wanted to know which foot he took off on. “When I told him, he asked me to change to the other foot and then to see how I would gain about a second on the defence coming for me. It was all about detail with Kitch.”

So that is what has to be done – but how does this translate into practice?

The first habit that has to be instilled in staff is consistency. Humans have a remarkable preference for consistency. We like to wake up with the floor underfoot, the sun in the sky and our coffee in a cup.

Consistency is also essential to making society work. Think for a moment about traffic lights. Imagine if places simply arbitrarily decided to use different colours and different combinations – horizontal instead of vertical; two instead of three lights. Chaos would ensue. So consistency is an essential element in the makeup of our society – especially consistency in the small stuff.

The next habit to instil in staff is focus. It is not the hours one puts into something, it is what one puts into those hours that counts. When I asked English lyricist Tim Rice about his writing habits, he said: ” When I write I focus completely on what I am doing – and then I don’t allow anything to distract me.”

So consistent focus on little things is probably the most important lesson business can learn if it wants to see immediate improvement in every area of operation.

Too many business are conducted in a suspended state of mediocrity. Only a true commitment to excellence and elevated standards – which means sweating the small stuff – will ensure survival for an individual and an organisation.

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