Small Things – Big Impact

Recently I reconnected with a client who I had not been in contact with for several months. As we discussed an upcoming project he thanked me for a suggestion I had made at our last meeting, describing how much difference it had made for him and his team. While I was delighted with this feedback I struggled to remember the discussion and just what I might have said that made such an impact.

I thought about this later and was reminded just how much impact small words or actions can have. As I thought further about this other examples came to mind…

  • A 1 degree error in reading a compass at the commencement of your journey can mean you miss your destination completely 20kms later!
  • A single quotation from a book I read some 22 years ago led to a major career shift

What’s the take from this? Somewhat counter intuitively, small things can have big impact

  • Small signs of progress are more important than we might think in building motivation and commitment. A recent book, The Progress Principle, (Amabile & Kramer, 2011), highlights the critical importance of small movement towards goals. Based on a significant and large scale research project exploring motivation in the workplace the authors developed a comprehensive picture of what constituted 'inner work life' focusing on 3 key components – Perceptions/Thoughts, Emotions/Feelings and Motivation/Drive. The authors concluded,"making progress in meaningful work is the most powerful stimulant to great inner work life." Facilitating progress is one of the most effective ways for leaders (and coaches) to build motivation and commitment in those people with whom they work.
  • An even newer book, Small Moves, Big Change (Arnold, 2014) makes some related points. Arnold's major argument is that our good intentions often fail because they involve large scale change and big steps. Small micro steps- what she terms 'micro-resolutions' are much more doable, confidence building and therefore more likely to be implemented. And when momentum begins, further change and movement is much more possible creating a reinforcing cycle of progress.

All of this further supports the Small Step actions encouraged as part of the Solutions Focused approach that underpins the GCI coaching system.

  • Actions that can take place within the next 24 hours
  • Actions that are specific and concrete
  • Actions that are about starting something rather than stopping something.

And when beginning meetings or coaching sessions taking time to notice and celebrate any progress from last time – even if not that great – is a great way to build motivation and energy that continues to help things move forward.

What small steps could you take this week to move that stuck project forward?

Have a great month!


  • Amabile, T & Kramer, S.  (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work. Harvard Business School Press. Boston: MA
  • Arnold, C. (2014). Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently. Penguin Group. NY:NY