One Small Step for a Supervisor, One Giant Leap for the Company

Many of you reading this have probably heard Neil Armstrong’s famous words when he stepped on the moon, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Several weeks ago at work I saw one small step for a supervisor and possibly one giant leap for our company.

If you’re in a position of leadership then you know you have to rely on others to accomplish your objectives. Increasingly we have to rely on others for their expertise because there’s simply too much to know and understand as man’s collective intelligence increases exponentially.

Quite often the seemingly little things are what end up making the difference. My boss likes to say, “Most companies don’t make million dollar mistakes, they make a million one dollar mistakes.” Not printing on both sides of the paper, not making the choice to email files rather than printing them, and wasting small amounts of money here and there can add up to millions of dollars over the long haul. When it comes to influence, small changes can make big differences too.Several weeks ago a coworker named Jim emailed a number of people asking us to make a technical change to some websites we were responsible for. For various reasons there was a delay getting this taken care of immediately so I knew Jim was anxious to wrap it up when he contacted us a second time. When I got around to doing my part, I hit Reply All and emailed back, “Done. That was easy.” I know many of you detest people who hit Reply All but allow me to explain why I did this.

Jim’s a good guy who is as nice as they come and always helpful to me. Despite his good qualities I know when an IT guy asks non-IT folks to do something the non-IT people tend to drag their feet. Usually they do so because what they’re being asked to do is not a high priority for them and they might be unsure about exactly what to do. I hit the Reply All button to help Jim.

Jim replied directly to me to say thanks. I called him and asked if everyone had done their part and he said no, there was still one person he was waiting on. He said the email was probably buried in Joe’s inbox. I told Jim I had replied to everyone so he could take advantage of consensus, the principle of influence that tells us people look to many others, or similar others, when deciding what to do. This principle is sometimes called social proof. When talking to our kids we call it peer pressure and for students in college it might be known as beer pressure on the weekends.

You see, I had a hunch if someone who’d not done their part saw most others had completed their work they’d feel the pull of the group and do so as well. My advice to Jim was to reply back to my email, including all of us, to say thanks to all those who had done their part. He took the advice and here’s what he wrote:
“Thanks again! I have heard from everyone but Joe. Joe, do you know when you can complete this update? I would like to wrap up this project by the end of the day.” Within seven minutes Joe replied to let us all know he could be numbered among those who’d completed the task! This may not be a big deal to you but it sure was for Jim because that’s one more item he can put to bed allowing him to move on to the next task. And I bet if it was you, you’d be pretty happy too.

Will this be the difference between growth or no growth for my company? Nope. The
difference between profit or unprofitability? Nope. But, imagine every supervisor and manager taking this subtle approach every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. That’s a lot of days cut off of projects; and more projects completed giving time for new initiatives to begin.

And this might be the best news for you business owners or those in charge of budgets – it cost nothing! All this took was an understanding of the principles of influence, eyes open to opportunities (they’re everywhere!) and a little creative application to a very routine way of communicating.

So here’s my challenge for readers this week; look at what you do and pause for just a moment to consider how you might ethically employ the power of the crowd, consensus, to move people to do what needs to be done. A few days here, a few days there, and it’s one more project off your list for the week which could add up to good things for you and your company. Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

4 replies
  1. Paul Hebert
    Paul Hebert says:

    Question: Would this have been as effective if instead of "naming names" – the email had just said something like: "Thanks for the quick response. I've heard from 99% of the group and am still waiting on one more to complete this by end of day."

    I wonder if by including "Joe's" name it creates a negative by singling him out.


  2. Brian
    Brian says:

    Great question Paul. First I think you have to know your audience because some people might resent getting singled out by name for not doing their part. In this case, Joe wasn't that kind of person. However, if you think someone might get bothered I'd suggest this approach:

    1. Generic email to the group thanking everyone who has done their part then add something along the lines of "we're almost finished" or "just waiting on a few more folks."

    2. Then send a separate email to the person who hasn't completed their part and write something like, "Joe, I didn't want to single you out in front of the group so I thought it best to contact you directly. Do you know when you can complete this update? I ask because I'd like to wrap up this project by the end of the day.”



Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] One Small Step for a Supervisor, One Giant Leap for the Company […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.