When was the last time you really listened to one of your customers? What about your front line employees? Many business leaders find themselves so busy with meetings, phone calls and planning that they end up somewhat removed from the most important thing that goes on in their business – engagement with their customers! After all, customers are who determine whether or not a business is successful.
Although as a leader you likely have great meetings and conversations with your direct reports or your immediate team, sometimes they don’t tell you the small details, and not because they don’t want to or because they are hiding something, but rather because they don’t necessarily think you will find it important. In other words, they may not want to bother you with the small details. However, what you will learn by spending time with your front line employees (the ones who directly interact with your customers) or your customers themselves will undoubtedly drive change and innovation in your business.
A great example is a CEO I work with that said some of the most valuable time they spend in their business is listening to support or sales calls. They learn what the customer painpoints are, what their front line employees are saying on the phone, what their customers are asking for, etc. In your business, a customer may ask “Do you provide X (fill in the blank) service?” and the employee they are speaking to may answer “no” which is correct. However, that call may spark an idea for a new service opportunity for your business which you wouldn’t have thought of if you weren’t listening in.
Alternatively, having a team meeting with front line employees can provide similar information regardless of what leadership position you’re in – right up to the CEO. Try a townhall type format, where you write three headings on your whiteboard: what’s working, what’s not working and areas of opportunity and then just let them talk while you write and ask questions. Some of the things they tell you that aren’t working will cause you to scratch your head and say “we need to fix that!” and you can just get it done! The changes that result from your learnings can drive revenue, innovation, profitability and also motivate your organization because they know their voices are heard all the way to the top.
At the end of the day, it’s rare that someone purposefully leaves out details or information in an effort to hide something from you, but they do filter information (often without intending to do so) based on what they think you need (or want) to know. Do yourself, and your business, a favor and occasionally remove the filter because what you learn will lead to great improvement!