power your advice

The Magic in Managing the Details

“Detail is no detail.” I’m not sure where I heard this first. I even did a Google search and couldn’t find it. Maybe I made it up. If I did, this is what I meant by it: details are important.

They must be purposeful. Some of the “little things” that seemingly don’t matter can actually be very important.

An example of this comes right out of my recently released book, the updated and revised version of The Cult of the Customer. On page 163, I wrote, “Our perceptions of the organizations with which we choose to work are inevitably shaped by a sequence of seemingly little experiences that can go either well or poorly.” The examples include demonstrated positive experiences by focusing on the “small stuff.”

For example, when guests sit down for dinner at the Italian restaurant chain Brio, they probably don’t notice that the colored sugar packets on the table are carefully arranged with exactly 12 pink packets, 12 yellow packets and 12 white packets. Each time a guest leaves, the staff makes sure the sugar packets are replenished, if necessary.

I asked a manager about this and he gave me a great explanation. The short version is that when someone comes to work at Brio, they are taught to manage a number of these small details. This sets the tone for them to manage other details, even the ones they aren’t officially trained to manage. In other words, the employees are trained to have a “manage the details” mindset.

Consider this example of the sugar packets as a metaphor for the importance of all details. When we train our teams to pay attention to the small, seemingly unimportant details, we’re also training them to pay attention to something much larger than a detail.

When I was a teenager working at a gas station, an executive from the head office came to visit us one day. As we were walking around the station, he noticed one of our metal signs had a very slight bend in the corner. Let emphasize that it was a very slight bend. The executive pulled out a notebook and wrote down a reminder to get the signed fixed. He mentioned to me that if someone brushed up against the sign it may snag their clothing. He’d get the maintenance guy to bend it back or replace it.

I was so impressed that he spotted that small detail. From that point on, I started spotting and managing the details. It stuck with me throughout my employment at the gas station—and the rest of my life.

The point of all of this is that leaders and managers must model how we want our teams to behave. We lead, coach and teach. Help everyone understand what it’s like to have a detail-oriented mindset. By the way, anyone—regardless of their title or position in a company—can be a great role model for this one. Let me wrap this up in one simple sentence: When a manager or a leader puts detail into the operation—such as sugar packets on a table—it helps set the mindset of the other employees to focus on the details as well.

Related: Put Some Fun Into Serious Business