For some of my clients, I meet with midlevel directors and managers or frontline supervisors and team leaders to assess what their concerns are, and what support they need to be successful. Way more often than you’d think — or maybe not — the employees tell me about processes that don’t work, turf battles, and other kinds of customer and employee problems.
And much, much too often, when I ask if their senior leaders are aware of these conflicts or inadequacies, team members say they don’t know. Either they’re afraid to ask, or they can’t believe that a leader could know, but not take action.
All leaders should be up to date on at least a few high-risk areas, so if you are a senior leader yourself, use this list of things leaders should know to find out what’s really going on in your own shop. Or, when you check in with your leadership, you could use the list as a jumping off point to provide concrete examples of how these things go awry.
1. Leaders Should Know About Customer Reactions and Retention
Leaders often believe they know what customers want, based on which products or services rack up the most sales. But sales figures never account for what customers couldn’t get, or what went wrong during processing, delivery, or usage. As an illustration, customers may be buying gifts elsewhere if, say, instead of a real gift card, your operation only provides a note printed on the shipping carton or packing slip. (The whole point of a card, after all, is to convey a personal, potentially emotional message.)
Sales figures also don’t account for inadequacies that waste customer time or money, or otherwise cause incremental stress (life is stressful enough). For example, customers get exasperated when companies that won’t let them transact unless they set up an account and a password that most people don’t make note of, so they can’t access the forced account the next time they try to order. (When this happens to me, I get frustrated and go to Amazon. Or an actual store.)
- Do leaders actually test-buy items from your company?
- Do they sample customer interactions for review?
2. Leaders Should Know the Real Reasons Why Employees Leave
“Because they got a better offer” may be completely accurate. But what actually made it better, and why was the employee open to hearing about it — or worse, actively seeking it? If your company is severely underpaying, your leaders need to think about how to meet the market. And also check to see if only certain types of people are being paid or if certain leaders manage to get their people paid, but others don’t.
- How much do your leaders praise employees, while inspiring them to continue striving?
- Do employees feel respected and appreciated because their input is heard and attended to?
- Are employees experiencing growth? Or do they think it will be easier or more satisfying to be a star somewhere else?
- Have promises been kept? And are the promises being made generally realistic?
3. Leaders Should Know Why Initiatives Stall
Instead of assuming that change is futile or too costly, senior leaders should be actively pursuing the truth about why progress is so slow. It’s often the case that forward movement is hampered because big concepts are imposed from above without any concrete connection to the day-to-day work.
- Is there a lack of alignment among your organization’s senior leaders or mid-level leaders about what a change really means, so that despite endless meetings and discussions, no action is taken?
- When rank-and-file employees come forward with new ideas or proposals, are they met with a lack of tolerance or harsh correction, so the ideas stop coming?
- Who takes it as their responsibility to actively encourage the hard work of change?
- Is someone holding up examples of success, so people feel motivated to invest their personal capital and energy?
4. Leaders Should Know How Their Actions Affect Each Other
Team members at every level are aware of whether senior leaders are good colleagues themselves, respected and trusted by peers, or avoided and worked around.
- Do the leaders work to build the organization together, share credit, and express interest in each other as people and decision-makers?
- Do they provide information readily and without criticism?
- Can they speak on each other’s behalf?
- Do they help new colleagues integrate into the organization and speak respectfully and with fondness of colleagues who have left?
Everyone notices; the question is what they do with what they understand. Midlevel management knows most of these things, and the frontline knows the rest. If you’re a senior leader, you could just ask your team members what gets in the way. (Or I could ask for you.) Just keep in mind that you’ll have to pay attention and demonstrate that you’re taking steps to improve.
Onward and upward —