January 29, 2019

Setting the Example

Bryan Hughes

Bryan Hughes
President /FirstService Residential Massachusetts

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We’ve all witnessed it, right? The executive leader who acts (and probably views themselves as) “too good to do the dirty work”. Whether this feeling of exclusivity comes from an us vs. them mentality, or maybe they think they have paid the price to avoid the little things of the business, this attitude can be a significant morale-killer in most organizations.

A television show called Undercover Boss showed us executive leaders that temporarily put on a disguise, and sweated it out with the field workers in order to better understand the inner-workings of the business. At the end of each episode, the executive would discuss what they learned, and share what they would change. In almost every episode, the leader committed to spend more time with the field team. They said doing so what help them stay grounded and aware of what was going on at the customer level, while at the same time it would help to break down barriers between the leadership and labor.

Why don’t more leaders do this? The psychology for this could likely be an article on its own, but it is safe to say that there are a myriad of reasons. The reality though is that most leaders don’t get into the trenches. With this reality, they A) don’t really know what is going on and must rely solely upon what he/she is told by subordinates; and B) the field team misses out on the opportunity to see the work done well, or to breakdown perceived barriers.

Doug Dickerson shared a story in 2016 about story is told of when Gen. George C. Marshall took command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA. He found the post in a generally run-down condition. Rather than issue orders for specific improvements, he simply got out his own paintbrushes, lawn equipment, etc., and went to work on his personal quarters. The other officers and men, first on his block, then throughout the post, did the same thing, and Fort Benning was brightened up.

Leaders are busy. There is seemingly little time to get into the field, but it can be done if you take the time to plan for it. In my last corporate position, I planned into my calendar specific times and dates where I would be in the field with sales and with service. I would typically time this around operational reviews, or other visits to the local management in the field. If I could be seen in the field helping to sell or install our products and services, this caused the local team to be more open with me as I asked questions regarding the operation. This could then be used to better understand how I could help (or re-direct) the management in that office.

There were other unexpected benefits that came from this. As I had a regular track record of sales in the field, this removed many of the excuses from the management team as to why they couldn’t be in the field selling from time to time. This was especially true when I sold a product or service that was new or innovative; of which, the field was often hesitant to try. I similarly remember a time where I was in Dallas with an installation crew, working on a particularly labor-intensive project. This project required some specific licensure which I did not hold, so I could not do much outside of rough manual labor.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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