• March 2014

Why Moving the Needle Matters More Than You Think

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More, Inc.

We all want to solve the big problem. Each of us wants to be the one who creates the breakthrough, who upends the paradigm, who stops or starts “it” once and for all.

When you can’t solve the big problem, it often feels futile to try. Because if you try and you don’t succeed, it seems like wasted effort.

But it’s not, because sometimes moving the needle is enough.

For example, a friend of mine took in her high school-age nephew during a crisis. The nephew was the child of her late brother, who had died in an accident many years earlier. The mom had remarried, and things weren’t going well for the nephew with his new family. The kid was on the verge of dropping out of high school, and his parents were ready to kick him out of the house.

My friend thought she could right the ship. She knew the kid was smart. She believed that she could get him on the same track her own kids were on: high school, college, and then a successful career.

Four long years later, he graduated from high school, but is now floundering in college: poor grades, incomplete classes, lack of direction.

My friend feels like she has failed. But she didn’t. Though it’s unclear whether or not her nephew will ever graduate from college, it is clear that had he stayed where he was he wouldn’t have finished high school. My friend didn’t accomplish her big goal, but she definitely moved the needle.

Her experience with her nephew is not unlike what we encounter in many other areas of our lives.

For example, I was in a client meeting last week discussing the viability of their big plan, which had a huge goal. My client is in the adventure travel business. Part of their big huge purpose is to change the way people think about and experience travel. To accomplish this audacious goal, they need to change the way travel agents think about and talk about travel. No easy feat given the size of the industry and the fact that most people are used to doing things in a certain way.

As we considered the hugeness of their goal, one of the managers asked, “Is it realistic to think we’re going to change every single person in this industry?”

My answer was, “No, we’re not going to change every single person.”

What we are going to do is move the needle. The more we move the needle, the more we’ll get traction, then there will be more energy, then more people will emerge to help us, and so on.

You don’t have to know how the endgame will turn out until you start moving the needle. The same principle applies to simple projects:

  • You don’t have to de-clutter your whole house; just start with one drawer.
  • Don’t think about losing 20 lbs; just start eating more vegetables.
  • Don’t try to be the perfect parent all the time; just be nicer at dinner.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking about having to sell 1,000 widgets; start by selling five.

Trying to tackle the whole big thing at once can feel overwhelming and prevent you from starting.

Instead, focus on moving the needle. Because when you move the needle it gives you the energy to do more.

You don’t accomplish big things overnight; you move the needle every day. Sometimes you get the big score and sometime you don’t. Whichever way it turns out, moving the needle is always worth the effort.


About Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies such as Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. She’s the author of, “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud,” as well as, “The Triangle of Truth,” which The Washington Post named a “Top Five Book for Leaders.”

She has appeared on “Today,” and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches.

Click here to learn more: www.lisaearlemcleod.com.