An effective leadership development strategy is emerging in organizations that have discovered the power of little actions. These little actions, also known as micro-actions, offer a way forward for leaders to bring their values to life in a quantifiable manner.

Basically, a micro-action is a brief and intentional activity -- some of which take two minutes or less -- that any leader can take to develop personally and attain improved results in some defined area.

For instance, leaders might engage in "drive-by praise," aiming to offer timely compliments throughout the day. This offers leaders a small, but meaningful, step toward improved team morale and engagement.

Now imagine the possibility of tying in micro-actions to your company's values--meaning, as the global marketplace becomes increasingly dynamic and competitive, organizations are looking to the benefits and competitive edge that living their values can yield. Recent research backs this strategy up. 

Live out company values with micro-actions.

The research on the impact of values, however, is a two-sided coin. It discredits any notion that a company's stated values make a difference in a company's performance. Rather, the real difference comes in when organizations actually live the values they profess.

This is why organizations have begun utilizing micro-actions to infuse little doses of their values into their teams' daily routines, which is also helping leaders to avoid falling back to old habits.

To get a more in-depth understanding of the role and effectiveness of micro-actions, I collected some perspectives from top leaders and brands utilizing such a strategy.

Rob Shaw, co-founder of TeamFit, says, "Almost 50 percent of the leadership teams we've worked with around the world struggle to improve how they work. Too often, change efforts fail as teams fall back into old patterns of behavior. The best teams know they can't be great at everything. They pick one or two micro-habits and do them well." 

Matt Norquist, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, suggests it's the little things that separate the top performers from their peers. He says it comes down to two things: a daily focus on getting things done and getting those little things right before trying the big stuff. The magic formula, he says, is "doing the boring stuff day in and day out -- and sticking to it, even when you don't feel like it."

Digging further for application, you might be wondering how values or desired behaviors are actually lived out by leaders. Here are four examples. 

1. Eliminating process waste.

Too often when we work ourselves into a routine, we don't stop to question it. This was the situation at Gaylor Electric, an electrical engineering company, before its CEO, Chuck Goodrich, committed to performing a micro-action one day. 

Chuck's commitment was simply to take some time to find process waste -- no matter how big or small.

What he found while completing the action was astonishing: The company was paying couriers $18,000 per month to go back and forth between locations that their existing employees regularly traveled to.

Once he spotted this, all he had to do was work out a system for his team to bring the packages with them instead, saving Gaylor Electric the entire $18,000 in costs. 

2. Repairing relationships with ground-level teams.

When a rift forms between leadership and ground-level teams, it can severely damage morale, erode customer service, and hinder growth.

When one major transportation company was faced with a growing divide between ground-level supervisors and their teams, senior leaders addressed the problem by empowering the supervisors to perform little actions to help them connect with their teams.

Ultimately, the teams' perception of their supervisors improved significantly, and numerous stories emerged about supervisors going above and beyond for their teams. 

3. Boosting Net Promoter Score

CoverHound, an insurance technology company, sought to improve its standing with customers by utilizing daily values-aligned actions. CoverHound's leadership believed they needed to leverage actions that targeted collaboration and focus to achieve this. 

To measure their standing, and determine their success, they utilized the well established net promoter score (NPS). During CoverHound's first month performing these actions, they saw a 15 percent bump in their NPS. 

4. Slashing turnover.

Facing both bankruptcy and a high rate of turnover common to the restaurant industry, Macaroni Grill's leadership knew it needed to make changes. Macaroni Grill's leadership decided to target little behaviors performed by their front-line managers. These actions focused on increasing servant leadership and instilling a sense of mindfulness into the workday. 

Since Macaroni Grill's initiative to transform its culture with little actions began, it has decreased turnover rate by 60 percent. Aside from this decrease being impressive on its own, it also serves as a major competitive advantage for an industry facing a 150 percent rate in yearly turnover.

As more people throughout an organization take little actions, with a singular goal in mind, greater outcomes emerge. To quote Bill Sherman, COO of Thought Leadership Leverage, "Culture is what most of the people in an organization do most of the time. If you create a series of small nudges, you can significantly change individual behaviors and shift the organization's culture." 

Published on: Oct 2, 2019
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