Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Right Question

A corporate executive stops in at different locations a couple of times per year. According to local staff, he only talks to the location manager. He wanders around a bit to assess the housekeeping and organization.

I was talking with one of the location managers recently. I asked if the executive asked her about any issues. "I've only talked to him when the plant manager is gone."

What missed opportunities! Any leader worth their salt should be trying to elicit as much from as many people as possible. It's hard to get a real sense just by walking around, especially if you give the impression that you don't want to be disturbed in your 'tour'. The higher up the corporate ladder you go, the less familiar you are going to be with what's happening on the lower rungs. Daily life changes at all positions. What you knew when you worked in a location is now obsolete six months later. Additionally, you will only get filtered news. You may not be getting the right information because: 1) they're not sure you want to hear bad news; 2) some people perceive problems as a sign of weakness and won't admit that there's anything wrong; 3) you're probably not the right person to fix the problem, so why tell you about it.

If you really want to know what's going on, be sure to talk to a lot of people, and ask these questions:

What hassles or headaches to you have in your job? What causes hassles for our customers?

At least ask the first one, the right question to ask. You know they're giving the answer to that question to their spouse, co-workers, friends, neighbors, people on the bus, people standing in line at the movie theater, the local tavern, maybe your customers, suppliers, UPS and FedEx short, everyone, even people who haven't asked the question and probably don't care. They're not telling you, who should care.

Do you? Enough to ask everyone the right question?

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