The differences between “good” and “absolutely great” are often surprisingly small. Little things do matter!

Think before making decisions, Important details in leadershipLet me share a couple examples which I often use to illustrate this point. Think about two restaurants in which you have recently dined; one was a “good” experience, and the other was an “absolutely great” experience. Now identify the specific differences between the two experiences which contributed to your final opinions about the two restaurants. While perhaps similar in price, format and menu, why would you describe one restaurant as good, and the other as memorably great? I predict the differences you’ve identified between the two restaurants, while perhaps numerous, were not “monumental issues” when looked upon as individual items. In most cases the opposite is true; the differences are usually a small number of “little things” in a couple of key areas that were important to you.

Now take a minute to reflect on the predicted results and ultimate success of those same two restaurants. Which restaurant are you most likely to go back to? Refer to friends? Which do you predict will be in business longer? Little things do matter.

Here is one more example involving Tiger Woods and the game of golf. Clearly, Tiger is one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game. Yet, when you compare his scores to those of other great golfers, the differences in their average golf scores are again, surprisingly small. In the 2001 season, Tiger averaged 67.79 strokes per round of golf. Phil Mickelson achieved the second best score in the PGA with an average score of 69.25. Imagine, less than a stroke and a half difference between the two scores, averaged over 18 holes in each round for an entire season. The difference in their overall average performance amounts to about .08 per hole for the season… an incredibly small difference.

While the difference in performance is small, look at what that small difference means in terms of financial rewards for the two golfers. Tiger Woods earned a whopping 9.2 million dollars that year from the game of golf, not including endorsements. Phil Mickelson earned 4.8 million dollars or slightly more than half of what Tiger earned, even though their performance varied by less than two strokes per round when averaged over the entire season. The differences between good and absolutely great are often surprisingly small. Little things do matter!

So what strategic management lessons can we learn from these examples?

    1. Learn something new every day.
      It is extremely important for all managers to continually improve their management skills and techniques. Little things do matter. Even small improvements in a limited number of critical areas, such as your coaching skills or strategic thinking abilities, can yield dramatic differences in your performance and expected outcomes, now and in the future.
    2. Analyze and plan before you act. Be proactive, not reactive.
      Don’t simply react to people or situations out of what I call your “default mode” range of behaviors. While reacting with “what comes naturally” will be right occasionally, your results will be less than ideal in a majority of the situations. I’m confident you will be more effective, more often, if you plan, think and choose responses which are appropriate to the situation at hand.

Imagine Tiger Woods pulling a golf club out of his bag on the 7th hole, not because it’s the right club for the situation, but because it’s his preferred or his “default mode” club. In all likelihood, his performance would be considerably less than optimal. Professional golfers don’t just pull any club out of their bag without first diagnosing the situation. They analyze each hole for its unique characteristics, including distance, obstacles and wind speed. Only after they’ve done their analysis do they select the best club for that specific situation. Great managers do the same thing. Picking the right “club” matters.

  1. Learn to use all the “clubs” in your bag consistently well.
    Great golfers are able to use all of the clubs in their bag and they use them consistently well, every time. Good managers, like good golfers, have a tendency to over-rely on their “clubs” of choice, the ones they are most comfortable with because they have used those most often. When a situation arises, they react without stopping to diagnose the situation fully and then selecting the right tool or “club” for the job.

Great golfers know which club to use and they can use all of their clubs…very well, almost every time. Great managers, like great golfers, have developed their abilities so that they are proficient with all of the “clubs” in their bag, not just their preferred or “default mode” behaviors. This takes us back to learning lesson number one; learn something new every day about the “clubs” in your bag and how to use them better.

You have a full bag of “clubs” from which to choose. Next time you find yourself in a critical situation, take time to assess the situation and think it through, choose the right tool for the situation and use it well. Remember, small differences in behavior can yield huge differences in performance. Why not practice a new “club” today?

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