retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Life is full of small details that we don’t often think about. Little things like the competence of the mechanic who worked on an airplane part that is so critical to your flight.

Or the attention span of the driver next to you on the interstate or the ability of a football player to snap a football to his quarterback when and where he actually is looking for it. Small things always matter.

Sgt. Virginia Musall takes care of one of those small details for the US Army. Her story, written up for some reason in the New York Times business section this weekend, gives a lesson to us all in the power of small details and how to reinforce their importance in the work place. It’s a lesson for anyone and everyone.

Sgt. Musall is a parachute rigger: she makes certain that parachutes are packed correctly. It’s her job to ensure that when some soldier jumps out of a plane and down into everything from an exercise to a battlefield, the chute opens exactly as it should.

Sgt. Musall checks on four other riggers, making certain they packed the 36-pound parachutes correctly. There are 12 safety checks in the job because, let’s face it, a mistake at her workplace cannot possibly end well. There is no room for error for her crew.

Here’s where the army provides a lesson that businesses might want to steal in a heartbeat.

Four times each year, Sgt. Musall and all her fellow riggers are required to make a jump. That is, four times a year, they have to put themselves in the place of their main “customers.” They strap on a chute, jump out of an airplane, and expect everything to work perfectly.

Now granted, no job any of us have really compares. As Musall said, things can happen on any jump, including one she made that landed her 50 feet up in a tree. (Other soldiers quickly came to her aid.)

But think about the powerful reminder those four required jumps give the riggers. Four times a year they literally stand in the shoes of their “customers” and understand the trust the jumper has to have in the rigger. The jumper can’t check on every detail of the rigging; they simply have to have faith the job has been done correctly.

I imagine that the four annual jumps help reinforce that trust in countless ways.

No matter what your company does, it has riggers - or something similar. You have people in jobs whose work can be a cause of life and death—or certainly illness or failure—somewhere down the line. They probably never meet the people who depend on their work. And while failure might not be as dramatic as anything a parachute rigger faces, it could be extremely important.

So think for a second of the lesson provided by those four annual jumps made by Sgt. Musall and consider how you could do the same. It could be as simple as requiring food service employees to eat regular meals from the products they produce.

It could include requiring technology people to take over a checkout lane and see if the scanners are functioning as smoothly as they should. It could impact anyone, from a store designer to someone in supply chain management to pretty much anyone to stand in the shoes of the end user.

It might not be as dramatic as jumping out of an airplane, but it’s hard to imagine the lesson would ever feel more real.

Or make their job feel more important.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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