More than any others, there's one personality trait that is becoming increasingly valuable to employers. It's a trait that allows some people to see critical patterns where others only see a random series of events; or to recognize when something important is missing when others fail to notice.

It's a trait that when missing can cause a company embarrassment, or even lots of money (as you'll see below).

So, what is this indispensable trait? Attention to detail.

Detail-oriented employees are ones who typically:

These are the people who know that true success is achieved by being aware of the little things. I discussed this in my recent article "7 Things Detail-Oriented People Notice".

Every business needs people who are conceptual and "big picture," but if this isn't balanced with people who pay the appropriate level of attention to detail, they may be setting themselves up for disaster. Here are three instances in which a lack of attention to detail caused huge embarrassment and/or monetary costs.

The Million-Dollar Comma

A contract between Canadian cable provider Rogers Communication and Bell Aliant, a phone company in Atlantic Canada, was foiled to the tune of about $1 million Canadian--all because of a single comma.

The contract, which governed the terms of Rogers's use of Bell Aliant's telephone poles, was originally intended to keep the companies in contract for five years, plus an additional five-year renewal period. Typically when it comes to these types of contracts, the terms are valid for an initial five-year period and then an automatic five-year renewal; unless the phone company cancels in the final year of the first term.

The phone company, however, found a loophole, and wasn't afraid to use it: Because of the inappropriate use of one comma within the contract, they were able to argue that the contract was only binding for one year, rather than five. This is the sentence they argued gave them a way out of the contract:

"This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party."

See the mistake? If you did, you're probably a detail-oriented person. Without the comma, this clause would bind Rogers for a period of five years. With it, the regulator determined that the one-year cancellation applied to the entire contract--during the first five years as well as during the five-year renewal period.

The impact to Rogers Communication? $888,000 Canadian. That's one expensive comma!

The Misspelling that Shamed a University

When the Texas Longhorns recently released their Player Profile Media Guide, they had no idea the headache that could result from one simple spelling mistake. At the bottom of each and every page of the guide, a link to the university's sports website was included: The only problem was, that wasn't their URL at all. It should have been No big deal, right?

A savvy fan of the rival Oklahoma Sooners used this little snafu to righteously embarrass the Longhorns. He quickly bought the domain, and posted this on the site:

While the original error has now been fixed, Longhorn competitors aren't quite done having fun. This little error has also resulted in a Twitter account created with the sole purpose of poking fun at the university. You kind of have to feel sorry for the copy editors in charge of the guide, right?

When a Single Letter Led to Chilean Mint Firings

When the engraver for the Chilean mint made a tiny spelling error on a 50-peso coin, he had no idea his mistake would result in the firing of several mint employees and nationwide embarrassment. The mistake? One little 'i' in place of an 'l'. The name of the country was misspelled "Chiie," rather than "Chile."

The engraver claimed he missed the typo due to the sudden need to fix a deformity in the coin mold. Somehow, no one caught the error until 1.5 million coins were already in circulation. In fact, it was a coin collector that eventually reported the error--somehow quality control completely missed it.

Final Thoughts

Employees who are detail-oriented do more than just avoid costly errors. These are the people who notice subtleties that can give your company an inside edge and a competitive advantage. These are the people who notice if something's out of place, and who are aware of the nonverbal cues from those around them. These are the people who are able to dig beneath the surface of the obvious and see what no one else around them sees.

While being detail-oriented may not be the flashiest personality trait, it's certainly one of the most indispensable.

Has your business found value in detail-oriented employees? Or has there been a time when you regretted not having someone who noticed the little things? Share below!

Published on: Aug 13, 2014
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