Small Things Matter

Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.
— Liz Vassey

I admit it. It’s petty. But it still bothers me. Sometimes even a lot.

My personal name, Naphtali, is biblical. (Naphtali was one of Jacob’s twelve sons.) Because the name is of Hebrew origin, there are many ways to transliterate it. And the spelling that I adopted is a bit unconventional for many in the Orthodox Jewish community to which I belong. The result is that my name is constantly misspelled, on email correspondence, invitations, and even when I am being announced to media and an organization as a keynote speaker or guest lecturer. No matter how many indicators the other side has of the way that I spell my name (email, website, LinkedIn profile, etc.), it seems as if they have deliberately chosen to ignore it in favor of their more familiar spelling.  

In most cases, I opt to remain silent. I know that no malice is intended and there is typically little impact, if any, due to the error. Inside, however, I churn a bit, not because of the spelling gaffe per se, but because of the obvious lack of care that the other individual demonstrated by making the mistake in the first place.

For someone to misspell another’s name is to indicate that they didn’t take the extra second or two required to check on that detail. Instead, they chose to make an assumption or just go with the spelling that comes most naturally to them, despite the fact that a person’s name, to quote Dale Carnegie, is the sweetest sound to him/her. In other words, they demonstrated a lack of care (as well as due diligence).

When it comes to relationships, it is easy to gloss over the “small stuff”, the little things that seem to be of limited significance. But for many people, these “petty” details make a huge difference in whether a person feels valued or not.

The same holds true at work.

It is well known that workers today are largely disengaged. We read all the time about how workplace engagement levels are low here in the U.S. and even lower around the world. Loss of productivity is estimated to cost employers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, if not billions. And it all stems from how disconnected folks feel from the people working around them, the work that they do each day, and the purpose that it serves to them and to others.

Workplace connection results in many benefits, including stronger communication, greater synergy, enhanced anticipation of others’ needs and worries / concerns, and, last but certainly not least, increased worker engagement. When we feel connected, we operate with a sense of purpose and utilize our many talents and abilities to advance that purpose, consciously as well as subconsciously. 

The need for connection at work is perhaps stronger today than ever before. It has become an expectation, especially amongst younger workers, that the workplace be a source of meaning and intention, not just a place at which to collect a paycheck.

One way to help your workers become more engaged is to make them feel valued. Workplace morale rises when workers feel that their efforts are appreciated, and they are given a chance to shine. They also begin to see their work as part of a bigger effort, which adds to their feeling of belonging.

“Small stuff” extends well beyond a person’s name. Other things that can make a person feel valued (or unvalued if not present) include:

  1. Proper name pronunciation – There are more unique, unconventional names in the workplace than ever before. Take the time to learn each person’s name and how he/she pronounces it. Consider asking what the name means and represents.
  2. Basic bio – Find out a bit more about team member’s story and journey. How did they get here? What challenges did they encounter along the way? What neat things can they tell you about themselves?
  3. Demonstrate care – Inquire about people’s well-being regularly. We all have challenges. Asking your people how things are going, at work and elsewhere (non-invasively, of course), can help them feel cared for.
  4. Celebrate special dates (birthday, work anniversary) – Collect this information by telling folks that you like to celebrate these and then get them on your calendar. Notes, emails and small gift gestures can all go a long way in helping people feel valued and remembered on their special days.
  5. Identify special quality/ies that you appreciate – From time to time, pen a note that expresses how much you enjoy working with someone and having them on the team. Seek to identify a unique quality or two about them that makes them feel that you have really taken the time to get to know them individually. 

In addition, think about how you’d like to be treated and what bothers you when absent. Is there a detail that makes a big difference to you when present/absent? If yes, consider adding that to the above list.

Sometimes, in our quest to get things done, we forget the small stuff that drive connection and engagement. But leaders who make such things a priority will find that, to quote Matt Bevin, “While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things are extraordinary.”

Did you like this post? Is there a strategy here that really speaks to you? Is there another one that you'd like to suggest? Share your answers in the comments below.