Recently, my oldest son and I completed a nine-day, 105-mile canoe trip in the Canadian Crown Lands with our Boy Scout troop. There were nine of us, miles from any civilization or roads, where the only way out was by bush plane. We had to paddle and carry everything with us — food, clothing, gear, and the canoes. If we forgot something, there was no friend or family member we could call on a cell to have it dropped off. We had to make do with what we had. And if we broke something (or someone) we could well be ... up a lake without a paddle!
Each day we carefully dried our wet socks, made sure all our gear was clean, and made sure we attached our food bag rubber bands to our packs so as not to lose them. These tasks focused on the “little things” versus the “big things” of a canoe or our food pack. But if one of those “little things” wasn't focused on, we could have had a big issue. Just ask someone who has paddled all day on an open, windblown lake in wet clothes.
This trip reminded me of the importance of focusing on the little things. In life, we often hear “don't sweat the small stuff.” While often true, we sometimes follow too far — forgetting that some of the “small stuff” can actually lead to “big stuff” — good or bad. In business, we often focus on the big goal or the big client. And we should. But if we forget to focus on the little things, such as taking the time to talk with a co-worker about their kids or taking the time to give a new employee constructive feedback, then it can lead to big problems.
A lot of people at work are tired. They have worked tirelessly, doing more with less, for several years of tough economic times. Business leaders are managing so many different assignment and objectives that they focus their time on those efforts that will bring the greatest value in the near term. In doing so, the little things are often pushed down in the priority list (and eventually dropped off it).