The current TV show “Undercover Boss” provides the viewer a peek inside an organization from the perspective of the CEO disguised as an average worker. As I watch the program, I am always struck by the lack of situational awareness a leader has with regards to the inner workings of his/her organization. Examples range from IT deficiencies to inefficient processes to morale issues and in many cases, these problems go unnoticed for years. How does this happen and what can a leader do to diagnose these problems well before they become problematic?
CEO’s are usually left out of the loop for the following reasons:
Bad information never rises to their level due to poor leadership at the subordinate levels or reluctance to pass bad news up the chain of command.
By the time the information reaches the Boss, it is filtered/massaged to the point that the problem is not as critical.
The Boss is so consumed with his career ascension that he downplays the problems facing his organization.
The company is successful in spite of the organizational deficiencies.
What are some methods for identifying these problems before they manifest into major issues?
From a previous blog, I highlight the need to develop relationships with your subordinates. This will allow subordinates the ability to be forthright with the Boss and vice versa.
Make sure a process is in place for employees to communicate concerns to the top levels of the organization and make sure it works.
The one I find to be the most compelling is for a leader to get off his/her derriere and learn about the organization from those that are doing the work. A former CEO at TWA, my first airline employer, used to say the best way to learn how best to load the belly of an airplane was to ask those that do it day in and day out. As a leader in my military organizations, I made time for walking around and talking to the folks to see what was on their minds. It’s amazing what you can find out in a short walk about. Some will use this opportunity to whine to the Boss about insignificant issues, however in many cases, you can learn a great deal that you were not aware of.
I suggest two types of “walking around”:
Announced. Organized sit-downs with supervisors at all levels alone, no entourage, no notes passed up to THEIR supervisors.
Unannounced. Visiting the trenches ALONE but no disguise. Ask questions PLUS solicit their input about improving processes. Develop relationships by genuinely asking about their families and their goals.
The bottom line is you don’t need to be on a TV show to know what’s going on in your organization.