Updated: Mar 6, 2019
I was sitting at my desk wondering how the hell I got myself in this position: in my early twenties and tasked with running a multi million-dollar business, managing millions of dollars in inventory, and responsible for over a few handfuls of employees to make it all happen. My head was spinning – where should I start? I didn’t figure it all out that day. In fact, there are many aspects of leadership and people that I’m continuing to learn. One thing I can say is through my tenure as a leader, I found the most important asset was our front-line team. They were the ones in the trenches every day, making the important connections with our customers and delivering on our promises. The best ideas that lead our team to success started with them and, without support from their leadership, would have died there as well. In manufacturing, retail, or services, why hasn’t most of the world figured this out?
"If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own." Henry Ford
Gaps in leadership and communication seem to be an ongoing issue for front line employees. These team members voice their discontent for leaders that hide behind closed doors, make decisions without knowing the impact, and scoff at employees when something goes wrong. How many of these leaders do you think engage frequently with front-line employees to get the real story and listen to their concerns? How many of these people are genuinely interested in spending a day in the life and working together to understand the struggles and hurdles of one of their most valuable assets? Spoiler alert! – Not enough of them. Their front-line employees are disengaged and show up to work to check off boxes because they feel unsupported.
The most disappointing example of this I’ve heard lately is from a Maintenance Manager from a large manufacturing corporation. He’s working day in and day out to ensure that this facility is experiencing as little downtime as possible. For one reason or another, he had an asset failure a while ago. This asset cost around $20,000 to replace. As you can imagine, it was quite a process to get approval to purchase a new one. Three months of approval in fact. Do you think he just shut that line down for twelve weeks while he waited? Of course not – he was directed to rent a temporary replacement while the approval went through the chain of command to replace. Pretty simple strategy, right? Until we look at how much he spent to rent that asset for 12 weeks. $36,000. I’m not a betting man but if I were, I’d bet the leadership in this approval process has never spent a day helping this guy with his maintenance routes and probably has never had a conversation longer than 30 seconds with him – if at all. They have no idea the pain and stress he’s going through to solve this issue. If his leadership would have been on that same call, they would have had one heck of a 20-minute briefing of all the challenges he goes through day to day.
If you’re sitting there reading this with any sort of doubt of whether you’re guilty of this, then it’s time to act. How do you truly understand what your front-line employees are experiencing? Is it time to call them into your office and have a two-hour staring contest until they say what you want to hear? Not a chance. Go out to the shop floor, take a sales call with them, run their equipment for an hour, or just take them to lunch and be genuinely interested in their day to day work. Work to truly understand the pains they are experiencing; don’t lean on them to come crying every time something happens. In the example I mentioned earlier, how valuable would it have been to that employee if someone simply called him and said, “I know that’s a big loss for us at the plant from what you said when I was there last month; how can I best support you to get this back up and running?” Information is power and when it comes to leading your team, you need to work to see it through their eyes.
Showing genuine interest in the battle your team is fighting everyday will do wonders in building a relationship that will take you straight to the top. I’m glad to report that there are many leaders out there that have figured this out and are elevating their team’s day in and day out. They are the grateful, humble, and genuine ones that will continue to succeed and attract top talent. Be the leader that you would want to report to.