Most executives pride themselves on being connected to their business, no matter how large. They perform site visits to far flung operations with lots of small talk, hand shaking, and conference room meetings. It often looks like the practices decribed in this article and this one which is better. In my experience, these activities can accomplish far more and can be one the most important executive management skills. The reason is that effective observation of the reality on the front line provides executives with confirmation of financial metrics and additional early warning indicators of issues. It also supports more effective communications between layers of management. Even when everyone has the best of intentions, information reaching the top tends to be heavily filtered and at times reflects nothing of actual business realities.
I have begun teaching some consulting tools that I have used for many years to help executives be more effective at visiting businesses. A few people I know are very effective based on their unique business intuition. However, most can benefit from a more structured approach. Let’s start with a definition. Too many people immediately think of the old management by walking around metaphor which conjures images of superficial hallway discussion versus sitting with people as they do their jobs. As you might guess from this point, my notion of this practice is to pick some key front line roles and go spend time with folks actually doing the work. Going on sales calls is an obvious version of this, but should also be accompanied by more detailed account planning and strategy discussions as opposed to just showing the flag. Examples on the operations side of a business are often few and far between. It is following support people that you learn more about why that sale closed or did not close. Spending more time with a few people really getting into detail is often far better spent than getting that powerpoint presentation in the conference room followed by the obligatory tour and hand shaking. You can read the presentation on the flight in and the staff will appreciate the richer discussion as well. I call my version day in the life sampling. Some day I will figure out a shorter and catchier term.
There are some real and perceived barriers to pursuing this. Often there are concerns about middle management being second guessed by senior management going straight to front line staff. I have also seen discomfort on the part of senior execs about revealing their lack of knowledge in some areas, particularly operations areas. While these reactions are revealing in terms of potential deeper issues, this process supports deeper understanding and better communications between layers of management.
I plan on posting some additional details and “how-to’s” in this area. I am also happy to discuss it in more detail if you contact me via the contacts page. Otherwise, stay posted for more details.
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