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Having too many insignificant issues is significant

IN TODAY'S complex organisations and operations, people do not have enough time to focus on small matters and tend to pay attention to the high-impact ones. But by leaving small matters unattended for a long time, companies risk creating a big problem that consists of too many small ones.

Moreover, in order to segregate out the small matters, some people like judging problems in a mathematical way by calculating the impact of a problem as a percentage of total quantity, amount and so on.

For example, a 1-per-cent proportion of defective products sold to customers can be considered insignificant for some companies, but it is a serious problem for other firms. Or an inventory shrinkage or loss of 2 per cent of the total inventory can be considered acceptable in certain cases but unacceptable in others. In fact, a small percentage should be compared with some standard before any conclusion can be made.

Perception of small and insignificant matters may come from the following problem categories:

lNon-compliance with rules and regulations. Employees have to work under certain rules. Some companies have established clear-cut work flows and processes that everyone can refer to and follow systematically. However, some companies do not have written regulations or have out-of-date versions that can no longer be applied to the current business environment. Obviously, failing to comply with the company's rules and regulations can lead to major internal control issues.

lUnwanted cultures; there are several bad practices that can become part of a company's culture. Being late for work or for a meeting could be considered an acceptable practice for some companies until it becomes a culture that results in bad management and operational inefficiency. Repeated mistakes without proper punishment can convey the wrong message to employees that such acts are acceptable.

lMany exceptional cases; some managers put up with mistakes made by their subordinates, calling them exceptional cases. For example, an expatriate employee may submit a reimbursement form for small personal expenses with approval from the authorised person, viewing it as an exceptional circumstance. This is dangerous because it could invite more and more "exceptional cases" in the future.

lPrioritisation trap; on a day-to-day basis, people are likely to judge issues from a viewpoint based on priority. They may put low priority on a task that can wait for action, and put first priority on something they want to work on at once.

As a result, things that have been deemed unimportant or insignificant are ignored without proper action taken. An increasing number of long-outstanding items should be considered a bad sign that can become a big problem in the future.

Inefficient companies have to deal with many small and repeating issues. This is obvious when the meeting agenda keeps showing a long list of old items for follow-up. Once the discussion and brainstorming session is done, the minutes of the meeting are normally issued to all participants with an action plan. However, without commitment and accountability of the responsible persons, it is likely that these topics will be put on the agenda of the next meeting again. Thus it is important for management to make sure that long-lasting issues have been effectively resolved and with preventive measures in place.

To be more competitive, companies should not just emphasise big issues. Small matters should receive attention and care from management in a timely manner. This could improve both productivity and efficiency of the company as a whole.

Resolving small and insignificant issues can also be considered small wins.

This is important for any companies that want to keep the list of problems at a minimum no matter how significant they might be.

Dr Yanyong Thammatucharee is senior vice president for accounting and finance at Central Marketing Group. He can be reached at yanyong.thammatucharee@gmail.com.


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