Big Deal or Little Deal?

This week I read a post from Susan Barret Kelley’s blog, the Development Sherpa about the lessons we learn from babies.  As I was thinking about other lessons we learn from children, I realized that a bigger lesson comes from their parents.

I recently noticed that by brother and sister-in-law were using an interesting method to manage a their three year old’s melt-downs. When my darling niece was starting to get worked up about something, her mother said to her, “Is this a big deal, or a little deal?”  My niece stopped to think, and with a resigned tone of voice, responded, “a little deal”. And peace was restored. Mommy and niece quietly resolved the issue at hand, without a lot of drama.

So what is the lesson for adult leaders? We need to put things in context for both ourselves and our followers. Over-reacting to a little deal will have a major negative impact on a leader’s credibility. Under-reacting to a big deal will have negative impact on your organization. Differentiating between big deal and little deal is important, not only for children, but for adults.

Here are my three questions to determine if something is a big deal or a little deal:

  1. Will it matter a year from now?
  2. Will it affect a large number of stakeholders (both inside and outside of the organization)?
  3. Will it impact the organization’s ability to deliver on its mission?

Hanna B, in her blog, suggests that a five point scale can help you determine whether a situation is a big deal or a little deal. For example, using the question of impact on the organization’s ability to deliver its mission, you might want to use this scale:

  1. No impact or negligible impact to the organization
  2. Moderate impact on a non-critical  processes and isolated people resulting in little or no risk to the organization
  3. Moderate impact on non-critical processes and/or some people resulting in limited damage to the organization’s capabilities
  4. Moderate impact on mission critical processes and/or many people that damages the organization’s ability to deliver its mission
  5. Significant impact on mission critical processes that may put organization survival at risk

A couple of weeks ago, my niece witnessed a my sister and brother-in-law get frustrated with each other over his driving.  My niece’s response?  “It’s not a big deal, Aunt T”.  So the next time you get all bent out of shape, before taking action, ask yourself, “Is this a big deal, or a little deal?”


2 replies »

  1. i really like this Colleen. Issues can be brought forward by anyone in the organization and time can be allotted at each staff mtg to perform your 3 questions. If any of the 3 questions are collectively agreed upon as yes, than you can move to point 3 on the 5 point scale and start addressing the concern. Approaching a potential issue collectively will help all the staff evaluate and rate the importance of issues and that IS a biggie!

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