Five Reasons That Micro Matters

February 10, 2016 by

“Small things have a way of mastering the great. This small press can destroy a kingdom.” – Sonya Levien, 20th century Russian screenwriter

I am reminded, the morning after the #603 primary, of the importance of a small state, only about 1.4% of the U.S. population, in determining the next U.S. president. And within that state, the impact of small encounters between candidates and people in diners, town halls, and street corners.

As leaders, we should not underestimate or dismiss the comment in passing, the single line in a report, the one service desk call. Statistics may tell us about the experience of the group, but nothing substitutes for understanding the experience of an individual.

  1. The micro becoming macro, in a bad way: Non-verbal communication is said to have more impact than verbal. According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh, 85% of what an audience takes away is based on non-verbal cues. You can erode weeks of work on a presentation if you don’t pay attention to tone and body language as much as words and data.
  2. Small and bad becoming big and worse: Risks left unattended can cause major impact to a program. A risk is any uncertain event or condition such as lack of personnel in a high-demand skill set. No program is without risk, and ergo no risk should be without a mitigation strategy. Worried about a dearth of DBAs? Hire an extra one or have alternate sourcing on standby.
  3. Erosion of small things leading to the collapse of big things: I could use Flint to make this and other points in this post, and I suppose by that mention, I have. Crises have their roots in minor mistakes in judgment, omission of facts, dismissal of opinions… Years later, words and phrases like 9/11, Three Mile Island, and Watergate remind us – and it is sad to add another word, Flint, to this list.
  4. Invisible or unintended subventions leading to unintended consequences: A subvention is defined as a provision of assistance; a subsidy. In organizations, internal subventions occur when a particular function is provided with resources because it is unable to generate those resources on its own. These decisions should be carefully thought out; as the function receiving the subvention should align strongly with mission, provide qualitative value – and it should have measures (including some financial measures, to at least ensure good stewardship). Subventions that are given without accountability incent people to squander time and resources.
  5. The lowest common denominator effect lowers value: Decisions should be informed via broad, appropriate input and data. A case in point at MSU is the decision to go with Office 365; voices from many units and our students led not only to the decision, but the “how” and “when” of implementation. However, beware of diminishing returns if trying to get 100% consensus or business decision through democracy. By trying to satisfy all, decisions can get delayed or features can be watered down.

In closing, I offer this quote as the sixth yet perhaps most important example of small things that matter in a big way.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Philo, Egyptian philosopher ~ 20 BC

A smile, a word of compassion, a few extra minutes of time can make a huge difference. Recently a colleague sent me a handwritten note thanking me for my support of an initiative. It arrived in the middle of a somewhat wearying morning, improved my outlook, and likely my contribution for that day.

Pay attention to the small stuff. Pass it on.


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