Leaders Don’t Get Too Caught Up In The Details


Low Hanging Fruit and the Cost of Perfection

Imagine a small airplane flying low over a crowd at a baseball game. The door of the plane opens and a smiling man appears with a large sack. He turns the sack over just as the plane flies over the bleachers and millions of dollars in various denominations begin to flutter down to the amazed crowd below. The plane makes a dozen more passes, and each time the man empties sacks of bills onto the crowd.

Now imagine you are in this crowd and you see hundreds, fifties, twenties, tens, fives and ones all floating toward your waiting hands. As the bills come within reach, you feel compelled to collect only the fives and ones because you know they’ll be easy to spend and they’ll work in most vending machines. Additionally, you decide to straighten each bill as it reaches your hand and you arrange all bills in sequential order by serial number and denomination as you collect them.

Of course, these decisions hinder your ability to gather the maximum amount of money, but you really want to make sure these dollars are perfectly displayed in your wallet once the money shower subsides.

Crazy? Probably, but managers in businesses of all shapes and sizes make similar decisions every day. While rationale people would grab every bill just as fast as possible, managers locked into some strange quest for flawlessness worry too much about perfection and not enough about the goal – costing their companies millions in actual losses and even more in lost productivity.

Leaders Grab the Low Hanging Fruit

Often in sales we talk about Low Hanging Fruit (LHF). This overused phrase refers to the sales that are so easy to make you just have to walk up to the great sales tree, reach up and pick the customer of your choice. This phrase is so hackneyed and misunderstood that it nearly cracked the Top Ten in our list of the 25 Most Annoying Business Phrases of All Time.

The concept of LHF in sales came about because inexperienced salespeople would often pass up the sure thing only to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to close a sale that would eventually yield them less commission. In leadership, LHF refers to the opportunities that take little effort. These opportunities are often not glamorous, causing unfocused managers to chase shinier objects (leaving the LHF to rot on the vine).

Leaders, of course, maintain the goal in the forefront of their minds. This keeps them focused and allows them the wisdom to grab the Low Hanging Fruit; and to avoid the traps of shiny objects and the ill-advised pursuit of perfection. Leaders do what is best for the company and not just what feels best at the time or makes them appear to be in control.

Perfection is a Joke, and it Costs Too Much

I once worked with someone who was put in charge of overseeing the migration of the company’s website from provider X to provider Z. While X had done a fine job with the site, the company just felt it was time to change. No biggie, this happens. Unfortunately, my colleague got so caught up in how every page of the new website looked (she argued for weeks about shades of blue that were indistinguishable to the naked eye), that the designers at provider Z left out major functionality that would have converted twice as many visitors. Additionally, the new website performed poorly with search engines like Google because my colleague was too busy picking just the right images to notice that the content was incorrect.

A leader who was focused on the goal would have known that search visibility and conversion were the primary objectives of the website, and that there were no secondary objectives. This leader would have looked at the opportunity to build the site correctly as Low Hanging Fruit and would never have been caught up in unimportant details like Cornflower blue v. Dodger blue.

The Devil is in the Details

In today’s business world there is no room for perfection. Those lucky enough to still have a job are likely carrying the weight of several laid-off coworkers. True leaders understand this and do everything they can to maximize the ROI of their activities and decisions. They do not get caught up in colors or sequential bill stacking when the future of the company is at stake. As bad as it may sound to the dilettante managers, leaders understand that good enough is sometimes good enough.