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Benjamin Drury - May 22, 2019

Don’t underestimate the power of the small things!

Everyone is looking for big change and big results.  The markets want big growth and big gains. Founders and leaders want big action and big impact.  

In searching for the big we are in danger of forgetting the impact of the small incremental changes.  We are danger of looking for big wins, the silver bullet, the ultimate action and missing the small changes we can make today right now, that will eventually lead to those big wins.

Take Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors.  One of the things she did when she took over at the top of GM was to rewrite the dress code policy.  It doesn’t sound like much and on the face of it, it seems like an odd place to start, but what she did with it was a brilliant demonstration in emotional leadership.

She threw out the old ten page policy and replaced it with just two words, “Dress appropriately”.  Wow.  That is simple. Unfortunately she had some push back from her HR team and her senior managers, but she listened to their concerns and pressed them on why the policy wasn’t enough.  Eventually, they agreed that they would be able to work it out and moved forward.

What I realized is that you really need to make sure your managers are empowered—because if they cannot handle ‘dress appropriately,’ what other decisions can they handle? And I realized that often, if you have a lot of overly prescriptive policies and procedures, people will live down to them, But if you let people own policies themselves—especially at the first level of people supervision—it helps develop them. It was an eye-opening experience, but I now know that these small little things changed our culture powerfully. They weren’t the only factor, but they contributed significantly.

Mary Barra – CEO of GM

The thing about this change in a simple policy at GM is that it didn’t just improve the dress code, but it unlocked potential in people, because it demonstrated and told them they were allowed to think. It told them that they could do more than just follow orders and stick to the hierarchy.

It gave them not only responsibility to do their job, but also the authority. And that not only changed their dress code, it changed the company mindset and unlocked the hidden assets in the workforce.

It was a simple, seemingly small change with with huge knock on consequences.

What small changes can you make this week that would have a profound impact on how people in your organisation saw themselves and their role?

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