This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about common blunders leaders make that send a message of being unavailable to employees. See our previous post in this blog series on leader blunders.
Leader Blunder No. 4: Being too far removed from the work. A senior executive recently told me that he wants to stay close to the work going on in his organization. He’s sat in many seats in his organization for more than two decades and he wants to retain his knowledge of the work and major processes as much as possible. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear this.
As leaders rise through the ranks, it’s easy to become so engrossed in the bigger picture items (not to mention the politics). Memories of work life on the front lines fade over time. Ultimately, it can become easier to stop listening. When leaders stop listening, they become unavailable. Of course it’s impossible to know every detail of every job. But it is possible to have an idea of job functions, major processes and what it takes to deliver the products that come out of a department or company as a whole. Relying on job descriptions and project spreadsheets doesn’t give the whole picture.
I’ve sat in meetings where senior executives ask for a major deliverable within a very tight timeframe because they have no idea how much work it would take to do it. Being far removed from the work, their expectations were unreasonable and they didn’t ask the right questions. How can leaders be more in tune to the work? By listening to it. Here are some ideas:
- Visit frequently with individual teams. Attend staff meetings to listen in and ask questions. It’s also a good time to ask questions about projects, accomplishments or needed resources. Be clear about the purpose of the visit and encourage open dialogue.
- Hold periodic 1-1 meetings with front line associates and managers. Ask them about their work. What’s going well? What could be better? What’s getting in the way?
- Hold periodic reviews of processes. Ask managers and their teams to map out their major processes and provide estimates of time spent and number of people to get them done. Having them walk you through these processes gives you a greater understanding of them and provides opportunities to hear about their pain points that need solutions. Be clear about why you are asking for this to avoid employees jumping to their own conclusions.
- Ask teams to periodically highlight their key projects. There are stories to tell here and they can take many forms including: infographics, stat sheets, show and tells, internal news articles.
- Listen to those who “work out loud” via internal social media tools like Yammer. This is an easy way to tune into those who narrate what they are working on and engage them in discussions about it.
What ideas do you have to help leaders listen to the work?