Fix the Door and Save Yourself

Small visible defects destroy a reputation.

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Michael Wade

Over the years, in his many lectures on excellence, Tom Peters has observed that if you lower an airline tray table and find coffee stains, you start to wonder about the condition of the plane’s engines.

I remember that line every time I go to the auditorium of a local government agency. A side entrance door is broken. It can still be opened and shut if sufficient force is applied and you’re willing to ignore a loud screeching noise, but if you use a wheelchair your chances are nil.

Two years have passed and that door is still not fixed. Indeed, no repair effort has been made. I’ve talked to the manager about the door. He agrees it is a problem, but then he turns his attention elsewhere. You can tell that in his eyes, it is not that big a deal. After all, there are other ways to get into the building.

What he misses, of course, is the larger signal, one that I know has been picked up by some of the organization’s customers and even its board members: If this obvious problem is permitted to go unaddressed, what else he letting slide?

We can be quickly undone by small things: The un-shined shoes at the job interview, the unanswered E-mail message, or the spelling error in the project proposal letter. In the grand scheme of things, should they be given any weight? Perhaps not in every instance, but they are in many. People can easily conclude that the lapse reflects a lack of caring. If the lapse is prolonged or repeated, they may be right.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.