What is really happening here?
In my recent TEDx talk: Reclaiming Humanity at Work, I told a story about how when I started a new executive level job, that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
A mentor told me, “Talk to everybody and you’ll know what to do”.
I took this quite literally, and in my first 2 weeks I did 100 one-one meetings.
In each of meetings I asked people, “What do you think is working and not working? What do you think we need to change or do differently? What do you think we should stop doing? What do you think is most important moving forward?”
This was life changing for me. After those 100 meetings I felt like I had a super power.
Not only did I know what I needed to do, but I had 100 people who were motivated to help me go do it because I had respected them enough to ask them “What do you think?”
I got the information about what was really going on.
I learned that we had duplicate competing efforts in the group.
I learned that I had a manager who was a bully on my team.
I learned that we were not effectively communicating across the organization.
I learned that we were waiting forever for commitments from another group.
I learned that people were unmotivated because they didn’t understand the strategy.
I learned that people did not know things that my managers told me that everyone knows.
The only way to uncover the secrets
The most important thing I learned is that the information about what is really happening is totally hidden from an executive if you only rely on your managers telling you things.
It’s not that the managers are actively trying to hide anything — most of the time they are not. It’s just that nothing can substitute for real interaction and getting information directly from people who are doing the work.
When I looked around and noticed that my peers were not doing this with their organizations, by comparison they looked like they were shooting in the dark — where I knew exactly what to do.
I have taken this approach of talking to everyone forever after — because it made me so much more competent, and it made everyone else so much more engaged and motivated.
When my organizations got bigger, I could not have thousands of 1-1 meetings but I always had some — every week. I always had small group meetings, and 1-1 meetings with some individuals every time I visited a site.
The ride in the car
One of the most valuable sources of information I got as an executive was from going to visit customers.
It was not anything that happened at the customer meeting itself, it was what I learned during the ride in the car to and from the airport with the sales rep.
If you want to know what is really happening in your business, spend some time with sales reps, sales engineers, and service people. Learn what they think, see and experience. They will tell you more about what business you are in than anything you can learn at headquarters.
Put aside the hierarchy for a minute
It is so important as a leader to step outside the hierarchy and to have real conversations with the people who are actually doing the work on a regular basis.
Those executives that instead, pretend to act like a big-shot all the time, and would never think of talking to people below them, are cutting off the most important source of information there is.
As I also mentioned in my talk…tragically, people have died on operating tables, and planes have crashed because the leader refused to step outside the hierarchy to listen to the people who actually knew what was going on.
You’ll never find this hidden, most information in your organization if you never take the time to have human to human conversations with the people doing the work.
Watch my TEDx Talk here: Reclaiming Humanity at Work
What do you think?
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)