Our Summary: Being very strict on small details in the workplace leads to the establishment of a more disciplined and professional culture when it comes to big issues. Specific examples of where managers ought to step up are late meetings and missed deadlines.
Our Take: The philosophy behind the article is certainly sound; it is vital that an organization be serious about deadlines, meetings, and the like. Such an attitude will lead to more focused and motivated teams, and in the long term, better results. There is, however, such a thing as being too serious. In this article, our author may be guilty of just that. For one thing, it is impractical to actually enforce every small transgression with this conversation as she proposes:
This is unacceptable. You did not deliver. What happened? Do you realize the downstream problems this causes? What is your proposal to recover? How do you propose we now get this finished AND address the customer/sales/market issue this has created? How will you ensure this does not happen again?
Furthermore, adopting too strict a culture can have the opposite of the intended effect; when employees begin to feel constrained by the knowledge that making small mistakes will have disciplinary consequences, there is inevitably a stifling of workplace creativity and self-motivation. The focus shifts from striving to do the best work possible to constantly avoiding trouble with management. That cannot be good for morale.
There is also a flaw in the example that Ms. Azzarello uses to prove that this philosophy works. She refers to the reduction of serious crime in New York City in the 80’s brought on by stricter enforcement of turnstile jumping and graffiti on the subways. It is a big jump to be make to relate workplace productivity to crime; one is about getting people to do something and the other is about getting people not to do something. While strict enforcement of small details may certainly scare people from doing something like committing crime, how it fares in terms of actually motivating people to do their jobs better is more questionable.
In the end, each organization must find its own balance between professionalism and freedom in the workplace. Maybe for some, Ms. Azzarello’s proposed world is actually the ideal; I personally would feel uncomfortable working in such an environment, but to each his own.
The One Habit You Really Need to Achieve Long-Term Goals
by Patty Azzarello
Are we still doing this? How can you make sure you are still making progress on that goal you committed to in that offsite meeting six months ago?
In my work with management teams helping them execute their strategy, this issue comes up over and over again. How can you keep yourself and your team focused and motivated on the long term work, when each new day brings new urgent tasks?
There are many things you can do to keep your whole team executing. This is a central concept upcoming book: MOVE. (Stay tuned…)
But today I want to talk about one important approach to stack the deck in your favor to accomplish big things.
Always execute on the small things
If your organization sees you are serious about executing on small things, it will increase their level of seriousness when executing on big things.
This idea was described really well in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point.
(I’ll paraphrase a lot here, to get quickly to my point, but I recommend reading this directly fromThe Tipping Point if you are interested.)
He talked about how serious crime in New York City was greatly reduced in the 1980’s, not by directly going after the big crimes, but by making a concerted effort to eliminate two small crimes — 1. Jumping the turnstiles to avoid paying subway fare; and, 2. Graffiti on the subways.
Police started relentlessly arresting people for turnstile jumping, and every single night, any train car with graffiti on it got pulled off the track and painted over.
The point is this: People with intentions to commit bigger crimes saw this enforcement of these minor things, and the culture changed. They sensed that “if they are that serious about these small offenses, they must be really serious about bigger ones. This is not an environment where crime is tolerated.”
Two small-crime analogies I see in corporations are late meetings, and not addressing missed deadlines.