You’ve certainly heard all the cliché statements around taking a “30,000-foot view” of the business or your department. How taking this view can help you see things you weren’t able to see “from the ground” when it comes to process, procedure and daily activities.
This overused phrase is often thrown around by managers who have a limiting belief that they see things better and bigger than the “workers” who seem to be too small-minded and stuck in the details to ever create any value in the organization. We must both embrace and challenge all perspectives and all views of our business units if we are to get the real truth of what is actually happening, much less, find the action steps needed to improve current results.
All views and all perspectives have value. Read that sentence again and let it sink in. The more experience and longevity as a leader you currently have, the harder it is for you to believe that statement. Simply because you have more time in grade or more years in the trade does not immediately mean you have the ultimate understanding of what is going on.
The 30,000-foot view has value because it helps elevate conscious awareness to a bigger picture perspective. When you take this high-level look at the business, you can see how certain things might impact or influence other things in a different way than when you view them from the trenches so to speak. Most leaders in the trades are so busy fighting fires all day, they don’t have the time or energy to step back and take a different view. One of the best things any leader can do is to gain a high-level perspective for a deeper understanding of the big picture. Just don’t stay there too long!
When a leader stays in the big picture view too long, it can get translated into having your head in the clouds and not being in touch with what’s really happening in the organization. This is why all perspectives have so much value. Step out and get a higher-level perspective, but then get back on the ground and ask front-line team members about their understanding of current challenges and situations being faced. This is where communication becomes paramount.
The disconnect between the front-line team and the executive team has been growing for decades in all industries. As private equity investments have become more and more prevalent in the contracting space, we are seeing even more disconnect take place in certain circumstances: budgets, sales processes, training platforms, etc.
I recently talked to a top producing selling technician that was leaving a company that had been through five different acquisitions. Five acquisitions just during his employment tenure! He was leaving because, after the most recent acquisition, he said the top management didn’t even know his name, they only knew his sales numbers. This is a case when only having a high-level view becomes dangerous and potentially destructive to the growth of the business.
Obviously, this individual had no problem with acquisitions or he would not have stayed with the company through multiple sales. What he was not okay with was taking orders from people that were out of touch with the day-to-day operations of the business.
Proper leadership needs a mix of understanding different levels of team member views as well as all perspectives.
Get into the trenches
I’m not a big fan of television unless it’s a program that serves a purpose to help me grow or elevate my awareness and understanding in some way. Even when looking for a perspective from a show, you still have to sift through the production and drama of most experiences in modern-day programming.
One show that had the right idea was “Undercover Boss,” which originally launched in the U.K., but then ended up in a number of countries around the world. Usually a CEO or top executive conceals their identity and steps into a front-line position within their organization. Yes, they dramatize it and make the necessary production adjustments to stir emotion in the audience, but the overall lessons are generally pretty good.
An executive that gets in the trenches often realizes that most — if not all — of the challenges that front-line team members face exist due to shortcomings from management. This can show up in the lack of proper training, coaching, systemization, support, and so on.
Where can you utilize your own “Undercover Boss” strategy with your team? I’m not advocating you have to run to the wig store and shave your face or change your make-up. I’m just offering advice on how powerful it is to get in the shoes of your team.
When I owned a service business, I made it a habit to periodically do a ride-along program with my technicians. I was having so much success doing this for other companies as The Blue Collar Coach, I decided I better start doing it in my own business. Then once I realized how much I learned and how much support the team felt, we implemented “ride alongs” in other departments of the business. Service management, call taking, installs, and the warehouse.
Most managers, and especially owners, are terrified to get in the shoes of their team members. This is a simple case of fear of what they might see. I understand it because that is precisely why I did it for other companies for a few years before I developed the confidence to look behind the curtain in my own organization. To put it mildly, be ready to be surprised, my friend.
Warning: What you think is going on with front-line team members is not what is usually happening. You do your best to train in the office, field phone calls and, in today’s world, you might even video chat with a client to assist in closing a deal. However, the only way to truly understand what is actually happening is to put “boots on the ground” and see for yourself.
Be prepared for your subconscious mind to manifest all kinds of reasons you won’t be able to do ride alongs regardless of department. Not enough time, your team will be intimidated, you being present will change the dynamic, the client won’t react the same, etc. These are all common excuses I’ve personally made and now I hear from clients all the time.
Get out there, get your hands dirty and begin learning how the processes you create and roll out from the board room are being adopted and applied in the field. I was able to build the best sales process in the industry simply because I did so many ride alongs in so many markets across the United States and Australia. Don’t allow fear to block you from the results you desire and deserve. Finish reading this column and look at your calendar, find some time and schedule your first front-line experience. You’ll thank me later. Enjoy the process!
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