Don't Get Distracted by the Little Things

Last Updated May 27, 2011 11:13 AM EDT

Sometimes it is the little details that can trip you up.

For example, should you cut a lime into sixteen slices or keep it to just ten? Passengers likely may not care but for managers from two merging airlines, Delta and Northwest, it became an issue. [See answer below.]

Delta, which completed its merger with Northwest in 2010, recently released the details of the many thousands of steps it took to integrate its flight operations, IT systems and service protocols. Reading report, as recounted in the New York Times, can be an mixture of amazement â€" 1200 computer systems â€" and whimsy â€" do flight attendants hand a passenger a can of soda or pour it into a cup?

Keeping Your Focus

You might shake your head in bewilderment but what comes through clearly in reading of the merger is that both airlines were able to keep their eye on the big picture â€" creating the world's biggest airline seamlessly â€" at the same time they took care of simple issues.

For example, on the high side, the merged companies worked well enough to create common understanding with the pilots, but on the low side struggled (and still today) with type of bag flight attendants will use to collect trash at the end of a flight.

So often, as anyone who works in an organization knows, it is the little things that give you headaches and can stop you from proceeding to our goals. And often the little issues really are not little; they are seized upon as obstacles by people who resist change. That is, employees may balk at a shift in lunch hour times when their real problem is not a time change but fear of a new boss or a new management system.

If your organization is undergoing change, you need to be vigilant of the small details. Here is how:

Let people vent. With any change, there are winners and losers, despite what senior managers may say. Often what employees feel is a loss of autonomy. Managers need to let their employees express their points of view.

Give them ownership. When possible allow employees a voice in the change process. Let them shape job changes for themselves when possible. When obstacles arise, be the first to intervene, but challenge employees to come up with solutions. Be certain to follow up with resources to enact the suggestions employees make.

Insist on progress. But when the decision has been made, the organization must move forward. Employees are accountable for following through on directives. Managers must make certain their teams adhere to agreed upon deliverables.

Of course if people do not want to change, they will resist until it becomes too uncomfortable for them to persist. They will comply or they will leave. No manager can sweat too much over this.

While small issues can add up certainly, the lesson from the Delta-Northwest merger is that it is important to keep focused on the end result. If that is important enough to achieve, then the small things can wait, but they cannot be totally ignored.

Answer: Delta opted to hold onto its legacy practice of slicing a lime into pieces of ten.