The Power of Thinking Small

Business leaders often have to ponder some pretty meaty and serious questions; you know the ones:

  • What does it take for a company to double in size?
  • What does it take to grow revenue?
  • How do I reduce churn?
  • How do you improve customer loyalty and satisfaction?
  • How can I improve our cash position?
  • Where can I find more customers? How can I scale the business?

Unfortunately, there is no one answer these rather deep questions. But there are some lessons and commonalities in the solutions that have made other companies successful in answering and solving these questions.

In my discussions and work with numerous companies, there is one thing that I have seen over and over again at companies that you would consider successful. It’s something many of these successful companies share. They share an understanding of the power of small improvements. They excel at being able to execute on a plan to deliver consistently increasing value in small bite-sized chunks.

The 3.9%:

Many on my team would groan a little when they hear this number. Not in a bad way mind you, but it’s something I have repeated a lot. Back in 2016, I started pushing this idea of getting 3.9% better. Make it a goal every month ( or even quarter) of finding 3.9% more ways to help the customer, 3.9% more efficient, 3.9% more leads, etc. Focus on the small steps and iterate over and over.

Why 3.9%? I could tell you some magic process behind this number, but I won’t. First 3.9 is an oddball number, and it’s easy to remember oddball numbers. But realistically its a small and achievable amount. One that in mass, it can make a massive difference. Let me give you a quick example:

There are 8 hours in a typical workday or 480 minutes. If you can free up 3.9% of your workday by automating something small or finding a better way you can gain back 18.72 minutes a day. Now 15 minutes may not seem like much, but that means 93 minutes a week and 4867 minutes a year (or it’s probably easier to say two additional workweeks) end up being freed up by a small change that gives you back only 3.9% of your time. Now if that 3.9% improvement is repeated over 100 employees, you have just added what amounts to 4 full-time employee’s worth of time back to the company.

The same improvements can be seen in customer and revenue growth if you are focused on finding a way to connect and add only 3.9% more customers a quarter, over a year that compounds up to over 16.5% more, over three years that’s 58% more.

Some tips for thinking small and focusing on small improvements?

Don’t Over Engineer:

Too often people make the mistake of thinking that you need a deep and complicated answer to solve a deep and complicated question. The engineer in me can dream up beautifully complex solutions. These solutions are intellectually satisfying and can bring a great source of pride. The problem is they don’t scale well, and they take too long to implement. Look for practical ways to help solve problems.

Don’t Over Plan or Over Think:

Small projects and improvements are small. If you are spending a lot of time planning and thinking about small changes, you are going to delay the improvements and benefits. Also if you take too long, you may negate the benefits of a change altogether ( i.e. Don’t spend $100 to save $5. )

Don’t be Afraid to Try and Fail:

Sometimes good ideas don’t work out. If you are striving for 3.9% every month, getting it right 8 out of 12 times is still fantastic! Even 6 out of 12 is good! These are investments in the future.

Focus on the Boring and the Painful :

It’s ok to look at and improve the boring stuff. You will get more benefit from improving the routine, repeatable, and mundane tasks then you will from the eclectic effects only one person every year’s stuff. You and your team will also feel a lot better if you are solving real pain points and not just making change for change’s sake.

Do not Change for Change’s Sake:

Not everything needs to change or needs improvement.

Small is not a replacement for more significant initiatives:

You will always have a few large initiatives and projects going on. The trick is not to bite off more then the company can chew. 3-4 big company-wide projects a year are typically the limit most companies can digest, and often that is pushing it. You want to give your teams enough space and time to improve the business and move it forward by both large and small.

Get your team involved:

I like to make it part of my team’s quarterly goals to figure out and share how they moved the business forward 3.9% this past quarter ( or maybe 3-4 times ). Reward this if possible, look for innovative ways to call out and praise the best ideas.

Focusing on the small and building a culture that embraces and is always looking for a better way is a great way to ensure you are always moving the business forward.

Categories: Growth, Organizational Insight

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