The next time you are sitting around and thinking about the state of things in your organization, you should get away from your office and head out to the trenches. What do I mean by the trenches? I mean the shop floor where employees are making products, out in the field where employees are providing customer service calls, or in the call center where employees actually talk to customers to provide support and solve their problems.
Get out to that part of your organization where, as seen by the customer, your company actually DOES what it is in business to do. It is where the work gets done, and it is where all of the strategy that is thought up actually comes into play. As a leader, it is where you would learn the most about your company, your people and your customers if you took the time to listen.
I just returned from a client plant site where I had an opportunity to speak with some frontline employees over the course of two days, and every time I do that, I am always amazed with the level of complexity they deal with day in and day out. I consistently heard them talking about change and the constant pressures of meeting metrics, satisfying customers and keeping employees motivated and engaged through all of the change.
The challenge that I have always found with the frontline vs. corporate division relationship is that the decisions being made from corporate tend to feel so removed from the realities of how the strategy plays out in the trenches. I have been on both sides of the fence, and appreciate the challenges that both face. The dynamics that play out on the frontline make implementing any change a difficult proposition.
The noise that is in the system is real, it is intense and it can distract employees from the goals that we are trying to achieve. It is difficult to sustain focus on any one initiative when you know that it is likely going to change in the course of a few weeks or even days. It is doubly difficult to do so when the incentives that are in place do not align to the effort underway. Yet, somehow, work continues to get done, because the employees have learned systems of interaction and patterns of communication that allow them to effectively manage all of the change.
Working on the frontline, is not for the feeble-hearted. It takes real guts. It requires a resilient mindset. You have to be able to bounce back, you have to be able to deal with the competing pressures from your leadership, your fellow employees and most importantly your customers. Real-work happens in the trenches. A company is only as good as their frontline. Leaders at all levels need to keep this top of mind, and learn new ways to support employees out on the frontline.
So take that first step. Get up from your swivel chair, come from behind that computer screen, step out of your office, and spend a day out to the frontline.