During my career in the customer service industry, I’ve learned the value of leaders spending time on the front lines. Often as managers and executives, the tendency to be removed from what actually happens “in the trenches” is probably more of the norm than the exception. Position requirements and expectations often monopolize much if not all of a leader’s time. I suggest that leaders regularly carve out time to spend on the front lines and actually get a “hands-on” experience. Here’s why:
1. Enlightenment – In today’s business environment, managing by the numbers seems to be the way to go. Numbers are critical in managing a business, but one must remember there is a story and people behind the numbers. As a leader, you may be surprised to learn the “real” story. Time spent on the front line actually performing the duties connected to your numbers will assist you in determining if the numbers utilized for performance goals are in fact the correct numbers or if adjustments are required. Compare your operations numbers to your customer satisfaction levels. Is there a negative gap between the two? Your operation may appear to be successful according to the operations numbers, but if the customer satisfaction levels are not following the same pattern, it’s time to get the real story. In the same manner, compare your operations numbers to your employee satisfaction levels. It’s been my experience that this one can fool you. Your operations numbers and employee satisfaction levels may look good, but how’s your employee turnover level? Often times employees true feelings are spoken with their feet in comparison to what they say. Regular visits to the front line will assist you in getting the real story behind the numbers.
2. Respect – The amount of respect you gain from the front line workers by spending time with them is enormous! During my last corporate stint, I challenged a vendor manager to spend time performing the work of his front line workers. I had frequent conversations with these workers and understood the imbalance of their workload and performance goals. The vendor manager responded to my challenge with a resounding “Not happening!” One day later, where was this manager? On the front line performing the same duties as the other workers. What was their response to his being there! The word spread like wildfire! They knew that he could not perform the duties at their rate of speed, but were elated that he took the time to learn first hand the reality of their work situation. His respect and appreciation for these workers changed after this experience. The front line workers’ respect level for the manager changed as well. Hopefully, more realistic performance goals were the outcome of this scenario.
3. Improved Morale – Imagine the long-term effects to employee morale in the example given above regarding the vendor manager’s decision to spend time working on the front lines.. When front-line workers believe that leaders care enough to “get in the trenches” to gain the front-line workers’ perspective, a positive moral shift is usually close behind. A long-term positive change in morale follows if changes are instituted to assist the front-line worker in being more successful in servicing their customers (both internal and external customers). Front-line workers usually have great ideas for improvement and are just waiting for someone to ask for their opinion. Regular visits to the front-line will provide a regular flow of new ideas and suggestions.
3. Improved Customer Experience – An improved customer experience is usually the result of leaders getting hands-on experience at the front line. As leaders typically have some measure of influence within an organization, they can be the driving force behind needed changes and ideas for improvement that become evident when spending time on the front line. As these changes are implemented within the organization, a positive impact flows out to the customer through improved service and front line employee attitude and demeanor.
A front line experience is good for all leaders. It gives one a different perspective on what actually happens within an organization. I have a saying – “What you see is not always what is – ask questions – your perspective may change as a result of the answers.” Don’t rely solely upon numbers to run your organization. Spend some time on the front line!