Incredibly Small Steps (think small) Can Achieve Gigantic Results—The Kaizen Way (“continuous improvement … change for better”)

  “About the time we can make the ends meet, somebody moves the ends” ~ Herbert Hoover

How can “think small” be an effective strategy for significant change? “Small Steps” are actions or initiatives that require few resources or little energy, and can be done quickly by one, or just a few people… However, the long-term cumulative impact of many small steps – and occasionally of just one small step – can be huge. However, a small step for one person can be a big step for another.

We are more likely to have a large-scale, cost-effective, and significant impact through the cumulative effects of modest incremental changes – small steps – than by leaping from one bold unfulfilled promise to the next. There are many pressures in sales that encourage grandiose proposals, large-scale programs, and projects that claim to produce major improvements and significant results…  Many big promises have been broken while there have been thousands of small improvements that gain little publicity and little reward but have contributed mightily…

In the article “Theory of Small Wins” by  Karl Weick, he proposed that to tackle big social issues; “to recast larger problems into smaller, less arousing problems, [so] people can identify a series of smaller controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results.” For example: Telling someone to tackle the ozone problem is pointless. Telling someone to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 30 pounds of CO2 is a little better.

But telling someone to replace their incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents…now we’ve got something we can wrap our heads around. Applying a small-wins strategy can give you the psychological boost needed to get a big goal accomplished. Always break down big goals into concrete outcomes of moderate importance: Big goals are worthy, but not doable. It’s the dozens of small wins that lead up to the big goal that our brains can tackle…

In the blog “The Magic of Small Steps” by Scott Young writes: Contrary to popular opinion, most great achievements did not start out with a master plan or moment of inspiration. They began as small steps. Each step was ordinary, but they accumulated into something more. Consistently applying small, boring steps towards a direction is worth more than hours spent over-thinking the problem.

By boring steps I mean action that doesn’t appear daunting or extraordinary, not that it is lacking in creativity or interest. Consistency is the glue that holds small steps together. Most failures towards a goal are not the result of a lack of will-power or courage, but a lack of consistency. Consistency of action doesn’t necessarily mean consistency of direction. The best way to consistently take steps is to build new behavior. Behavior is the psychological wand that performs the magic contained in small steps. Consistently apply small steps towards the goal, even if you don’t understand fully how you are going to get there…

In the book “One Small Step Can Change Your Life – The Kaizen Way to Success” by Dr. Robert Maurer writes: Focus on the personal, inner world of ambitions, fears, hopes, and accomplishment and “think small”: Ask Small Questions; Think Small Thoughts; Take Small Actions; Solve Small Problems; Bestow Small Rewards; Identify Small Moments.

What is fascinating is that Dr. Maurer makes clear how gigantic personal accomplishments actually come from incredibly small steps. Whether you want to lose 30 pounds, run a marathon, or make sales quota, you must take the actions which will lead to that result. Trouble is, our human emotions often get in the way: We’re afraid  or, not afraid enough, and we fail when we should have known better.

This kind of reality-based approach (refering to Dr. Maurer) is extremely relevant to sales organizations, for two critical reasons. First, selling is a performance art; salespeople must learn to consciously take control of  communications and behavior to match requirements of the situation. This can’t be done alone, it requires reflective feedback from a support system of people, colleagues, managers, customers, family, friends, and skilled sales advisors. Salespeople must commit to the personal effort necessary to improve their own skills and abilities.

This is best done in a kaizen-style approach; through doable, bite-sized steps that are actually implemented with continuously improving goals. The ideas of personal kaizen directly apply to leading and managing salespeople. Second, this is where most organizations fail miserably; salespeople live within a system (or process), and management’s job is to improve the performance of that process through a well conceived strategy. 

Salespeople naturally bump up against the constraints of the process and the daily sales activities, such as, finding qualified prospects, preparing customer presentations, or follow up with decision-makers. Salespeople cannot control those constraints, they can only try to work around them.

Most sales organizations fail miserably because their managements ignore the job of examining and improving their competitive strategy which is “about being different.” “It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” In short, strategy is about competitive position,  differentiating yourself in the eyes of the customer, about adding value through a mix of activities different (not just better) from those used by competitors.

Competitive strategy is “a combination of the ends (goals) for which the firm is striving and the means (process) by which it is seeking to get there.” Sales kaizen deals with these strategic and systemic issues. It incorporates the scientific method to help the team clarify their work, identify the facts, and understand causes and effects. In essence, you ask small questions, think small thoughts, take small actions, solve small problems, and receive Big Results

 “Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets” ~ Henry Ford

There are three types of people; those that make thing happen; those that watch them happen; and those that wonder what happened.  Which are you?  More important which would you like to be? When confronted with a problem don’t merely rely on how things have traditionally been done, but focus instead on how the organization can most effectively tackle the problem utilizing its best intellectual resources.

Leaders cannot rely entirely or exclusively on intuition and experience, they must foster an environment that encourages the organization (the people) to come forward with their ideas, perspectives, and opinions on solving problems.

People generally get a lot more chances in life than they realize and everyone struggles with challenges and problems, but the trick is take the small steps and look beyond the surface appearance to the huge opportunities that may be hidden underneath.