The power of ordinary practices

Posted by Mark Schenk - January 10, 2007
Filed in Anecdotes, Evaluation

An article titled ‘The power of ordinary practices’ was the seventh ‘most read’ of Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge articles for 2006. The articles includes the following:

I believe it’s important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have.

One of our projects has involved collecting about 250 anecdotes from within a large multinational on the theme ‘values in action’. The anecdotes were used as part of a management development program. After short-listing the anecdotes, teams went through the most significant change process to identify anecdotes that provided the best examples of behaviours they should model. The following anecdote was selected as the most significant by one of the teams.

A great example, you go and – even impromptu if you just knock on [name's] door if you’ve got something you want to talk to him he will get up and he will move to his table and he’ll give you his undivided attention.  I have experienced many other managers who will continue to type, will not always turn and look at you…

That something so innocuous has such impact reinforces the ‘impact of ordinary practices’. As we regularly comment – little things can make a big difference. But, you can tell managers this sort of thing a hundred (bazillion) times without it really sinking in. So, here we see some of the power of narrative – a simple anecdote has had a major impact upon a group of senior managers by giving them a powerful example of the effect their behaviour has on others. 

5 Responses to “The power of ordinary practices”

  1. Robert Hruzek Says:

    All I can say is WOW! What a powerful example of how an exceeding mundane act can have such an incredible impact that people will remember it long after it’s over!
    Here’s one thing I like to do – when someone comes to my office, I stand up. That lets them know I’m paying attention and not reading my screen or anything else. (Besides, exercise is good, right?)

  2. Stephanie West Allen Says:

    As you might have seen mentioned on my blog, it is National Delurking Week. I simply wanted to take this opportunity to make sure you know that I read and very much appreciate your blog. Thanks.

  3. Liara Covert Says:

    You make great points that what we do unconsciously has a much greater impact on people around us than we might have imagined. Anecdotes themselves reveal a lot about the history and evolution of company culture. This is frequently worth a thorough review to see if it is up-to-date and still relevant or could benefit from review.

  4. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Hi Stephanie, I just saw your comment. Thanks! And right back at ya re your blog. Love it!

  5. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Hi Liara, welcome the the Anecdote comments. I was wondering if you might expand a little on what you mean by a ‘thorough review’.