'The Doorbell Dynamic': Why Most People Fail to See the Big Picture

05/29/2011 12:21 pm ET | Updated Jul 29, 2011

Doesn't it make you crazy? You're in the middle of a project and someone does something that's completely counter to the goals. It's like they don't even know what the team is trying to accomplish. I call it the Doorbell Dynamic, based on an experience I had a few years back.

My parents remodeled their home, an old, boxy split-level on a lake. They bought it because the lake was beautiful, it was near the grandkids and the price was right. But it needed a lot of work. They hired an architect to do a plan, and a decorator helped pick out the colors. After months of work, the result was an open space with windows on almost every wall showcasing the lake and nature.

The house was almost finished when the guy came to put the new doorbell in. My stepmother wasn't there when he installed it, but she arrived home to discover that the ringer part of the bell had been hung directly in the center of the only decently sized wall on the entire first floor. The only wall where you could put a picture or a piece of furniture now had a little five-by-five white plastic box right in the middle of it.

Apparently, when standing in the middle of all that glass and openness, the doorbell man was drawn to the largest vacant canvas available, and because doorbells are clearly important to him, he centered his handiwork in the most prominent spot in the room for all the world to see. So, upon entering the beautiful, architect-created, decorator-designed home, the first thing you saw was the large, white, plastic doorbell device hanging smack in the middle of the sage green wall.

After calling the doorbell man back to her home to reposition the bell in a more discreet location, my stepmother discovered how much thought and care had gone into his plan. "I could see that this was a nice place and that you were obviously real particular," he said, "so I made double sure that I had it exactly centered. It's not just centered side to side, ma'am. It's centered floor to ceiling, too."

Alas, this was yet another case of a well-intentioned person trying to do his best work yet completely oblivious to the fact that his job is part of a larger project. How many of us have done the same thing or observed it in others? The accounts receivable person collects the money on time, yet so angers the customer that they refuse to do business with us again. The volunteer coordinator finds enough warm bodies to man the booths for Family Fun Day, but her strong-arm recruiting tactics are so off-putting that people feel like virtual prisoners behind the snow cone machine.

How do you avoid this problem? Simple: before you begin any project, ask yourself or your team three questions:

  • What are we ultimately trying to accomplish?

  • How does this part fit into the big picture?
  • Is what I'm doing making it easier, or harder, for other people to do their part?
  • If someone is making it harder, it's probably because they don't fully understand questions one and two.

    Keeping the big picture in mind isn't always easy, but it pays off. Unless you want a team of doorbell guys, make sure you and everyone else know how each part fits into the larger whole.

    Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod is a consultant and keynote speaker. She is the president of McLeod & More, Inc., a sales and leadership firm. Her latest book, "The Triangle of Truth," was named one of The Washington Post's top five business books for leaders. Learn more at