February 28, 2019
Get Out of the Office and See the People
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It is very easy to stay at your desk. The emails flood your inbox every day. There are always fires burning somewhere. The list of meetings is long. People call regularly needing a variety of things, always urgent. But the thing is, you are in a leadership position and you can’t lead while sitting at your desk all day.
If you are new to leadership, this may not be a natural instinct, particularly if you are in functional roles. Business is all about people. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, there are people that are your employees, your customers and your stakeholders. To be effective, you need to get out of your office and meet the people who determine the success of your company. Remember, communication is a two way street. You have the opportunity to understand what is important to the people you are meeting with and how the business runs (from an internal and external perspective). You also have the opportunity to share key goals and topics that everyone needs to know. In this article, I’ll outline people that you should be speaking with on a regular basis.
Your operations are why you are there, so you should know intimately what they are about. So, ask key operations leads for a tour. In putting together the tour, explain that you would like to:
If you have multiple locations, visit each one on a regular basis. Speak with each location and that will build in some accountability as you have committed to the visit. The only way this will happen is if you put it on your calendar. If you make it a practice to get around and speak with the people, you will learn a lot, build relationships and understand how you can better support your people and the business. You will also be able reinforce the goals and objectives of the company.
Many companies want you to understand how their business runs, that they are important to you, and how best you can work together. Your sales lead will have a perspective on which customers would make the best sense to visit and when. They will also be able to provide you with background on the customer before your visit, provide any key points to stress with the customer and be your partner in the visit. You should also understand the profitability and relationship of that customer.
With customers, you should understand:
Investors and lenders have expectations of the company that include achieving certain levels of profitability and not running afoul of a series of measures that are designed to raise a flag if the business starts getting into trouble (these are known as covenants). They expect the business to do what it says it will do. The only way you know what those expectations are is to meet with them. The CEO and CFO manage these relationships. It is important that each of the key leaders in the business understand the expectations and participate in meetings on a periodic basis as appropriate.
Beyond understanding what the expectations are, you need to manage the relationship. Meet quarterly to go through the results, talk about the progress of the business, key initiatives that will grow the business, etc. Your stakeholders will be happy if you keep them posted and you do what you say you are going to do. If you don’t communicate and miss, you may find that it is difficult to get the capital you need to run the business. And you will have more attention than you want.
You may be surprised to learn what people hear in places that you might not expect. The accounts receivable department speaks with customers every day. Human resources can gauge turnover problems or reputation in the market. Accounts payable talks to suppliers. I could go on, but you get the idea. Walking through the various departments that are not sales or operations can be enlightening and help you run the business better. Schedule some time to walk through a different area each week and just speak to the people in the same manner as the operations section above. It will be enlightening.
Your suppliers can make the difference in whether you have what you need to provide a product or a service. As your business flexes up and down over time, how well you know and work with your suppliers will determine how successful you are in delivering on the expectations of your customers. Your suppliers will have insight into how well your business is running and will see things you may not. They may also have ideas on how to improve the operations of your business. The head of Sourcing/Procurement can help you meet with key suppliers.
When you meet with them, understand:
Knowing the people and their perspectives is critical to being successful as a leader and a business. If you are a top leader in your business, the actions above should be at least 25% of your time. To make that happen you need to make it a priority otherwise it won’t happen. Each week, make sure you have time blocked out on your calendar to spend time with each of the groups above. This is an opportunity not only to get to know the people and their expectations, but also to share the goals of the company and how everyone can contribute. When was the last time you got out to see the people? Will you make it a priority in your day? You can start today. What are you waiting for?
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