Big goals are reached after taking many little steps

As business leaders, we often hyper-focus on the big picture. We can get locked into strategic concerns such as succession planning, searching for transformational acquisition opportunities and weighing whether the time is right to launch a new product or service.

But it’s important to remember that there are lots of little things that deserve our attention. And ignoring them can have big consequences.

Years back, a musician travelling on United Airlines had his $3,500 guitar damaged by the company’s baggage handlers. He called the airline’s customer service department to make a complaint and get compensated. It took nine months to connect with someone at United who could help. But rather than find a way to make the situation right, the representative dismissed the complaint on a technicality — saying because the musician didn’t open a claim within 24 hours, the airline wasn’t responsible for the damages.

Angry at the airline’s response, the musician wrote a song, called “United Breaks Guitars,” shot a music video with the help of some industry friends and posted it on YouTube. Within four days of posting, it hit 1 million views. As the video became increasingly popular (today it has more than 20 million views) United’s stock dropped 10 percent, resulting in a $180 million loss, which many attributed to the viral video. Had the company acted in some small way to appease this angry customer, maybe it’s brand, or its shareholder value, doesn’t take such an enormous hit.

These little oversights might not always result in big public disasters, but they could still create trouble for your business. For instance, consider the impact of “emotional contagion,” the spontaneous spread of emotions and related behaviors. To borrow an example from Stephen Kaufman, senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School, say you’re having a bad morning as you head into a meeting. It’s clear you’re not happy during a presentation by one of your employees.

The presenting employee, reading your expressions, believes it’s related to the presentation. Because of that one misinterpreted moment, they worry that they’ve failed to impress, or that their input is not appreciated, and start looking for another job.

The little things are a big deal. Celebrate small victories with your team that lead to achieving your goals and address the seemingly small but important concerns your customers report to you or your staff. On your way to doing big things with your company, remember it’s all the little steps that get you there.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc.