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Those Little Things

Moving to another state meant finding a new dentist. I tried one a neighbor recommended who seemed friendly, competent and eager to please. But, I never went back. His office was a case study on the importance of little things.

The coat hook was missing a screw and falling from the wall; waiting room magazines were outdated; the posted office hours were taped over with an index card and new hours written in marker; the credenza was overflowing with mail and claim forms. There are plenty of dentists to choose from, and while he might be a competent one, why chance it?

It's the same at work. Bosses choose which people to give a great assignment to, take a chance on or consider for a project. Customers choose which businesses to frequent. All those little things really aren't so little. They're impressions. And those impressions help others make decisions about you.

Does it matter if you don't spell check your email? It's only an email, right? Wrong. It's an impression about the way you work. Does it matter if the address label is crooked on the letter you send a customer? Who looks at the envelope anyway? It matters. It's an impression highlighting that the company (or individual) has poor attention to detail.

Does it matter if you're habitually late for meetings or don't show up at all? I'd say so. It's an impression about what you think of other people's time. What about a voice mail message saying, "Your call is important to me. I'll get back to you as soon as I can." When it takes two weeks to call, that little thing is an impression about the real importance of my call and your credibility.

If I ask you for a business card and you can't find one among your overflowing scraps of paper, it's a little thing. But it leaves an impression that you're disorganized. If your presentation looks like a six-grade term paper, it's hard to have confidence that the executed idea won't be as well. How it looks is a little thing that entices us to take a closer look (or not).

Three more comments: first, don't confuse little things with big things. You can't just do all the little things well and think that's it. Content is king on the internet and television; competence is king in the workplace. The competent performance of your job is central to any winning at working strategy. Second, this is not a message encouraging perfectionism. You can't be perfect. If you try to be, you potentially limit yourself and get lost in those little things. Third, some people have a talent for details and noticing little things. But everyone can learn.

Start by noticing those little things which create an impression on you. Little things like the cashier doesn't take off the sensor tag; or the babysitter is late again; or your name is misspelled on an invitation; or the orthodontist staff presents a rose to your daughter after her braces come off; or the repair man arrives at the designated time. What do those little things communicate to you about the person or business who delivered them? Consider what your little things are communicating about you.

Bottom line? If you're not paying attention to the little things, you're losing opportunities or business. If you want to be winning at working, you have to pay attention to little things, too.

(c) 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit or contact Nan at

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