I like the show “Undercover Boss”. Mostly because I like seeing the CEO’s reactions when they find out what their employees really think about their jobs, the company, policies, etc.
Recently our CEO responded to some policy concerns by asking us to tell him what policies we thought were stupid, so they could be fixed, or discontinued completely. He called for a “policy purge” and that very day the first policy was killed. And our CEO is NOT out of touch with employees. He sits 40 feet from me in a cubicle just like I do. With the right arc I can nearly hit him with a Nerf dart. Any employee can stop by and chat with him anytime they see him.
One of the key things I have noticed by watching Undercover Boss (and being in business a long time) is just how much valuable information is being lost between the front line troops and middle and upper management. Often the middle managers get the blame for this, but at the end of the day, the CEO runs the company, and has to set the standard for the culture. Open, or closed? Inclusive, or exclusive? Executive restrooms, or does the CEO piss in the same pot I piss in?
Undercover Boss has covered some very arrogant and extravagant CEO’s – and some very down to earth ones. The down to earth ones almost always know their businesses better. They may not understand every employee’s personal issues, but they get the business. The arrogant ones are out of touch – probably because they are out of reach.
Being disconnected from employees is just as dangerous as being disconnected from your customers. Listening and learning seem to be lost arts in many companies.
As companies become more global and the Internet makes the world more real-time it is more and more difficult for companies to communicate internally. And at the same time we are adding in the complexity of a nearly real-time external communication channel with customers.
This is a LOT for companies to digest and adjust to. Many won’t. But those that invest in new communication channels will probably get to know their employees and customers much better than those who do not.
Finding the right tool to talk to a lot of customers and/or employees is hard. You may pick the wrong platform, expect people to show up where they do not show up – but you must not give up.
The new world is about rapid communication – and customers and employees both expect it. How they want it delivered is something we are all still figuring out.
Maybe Ray Ozzie knows? He has been as close to getting it right as anyone. And it appears he is still working on it.