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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Get Dirty to Find Success

One of my favorite shows is Undercover Boss, the leader of an organization goes undercover as a new hire and learns the trade, the missteps of the company, as well as the people behind the success. It is an eye-opening experience and quickly leads to tremendous insights, changes, and appreciation. Not until the boss removes the suit and gets dirty does he/ she understand how to implement real change.

Regardless of the industry, there always seems to be a perceived divide between the “boots on the ground workers” and “the executives and administrators”. The people “doing” the job and the people “designing” the job.” Things will not change until we create alignment, conversation, and transparent communication opportunities. We need to get in each other’s shoes, share experiences, and feel each other’s challenges. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the new CEO of Starbucks is doing just that. Narasimhan committed 40 hours to barista training and now spends time serving customers and connecting with staff. In a short amount of time, he uncovered cost-saving efficiencies and design improvements and experienced insights that translated to positive changes for the customer, staff, and company.

Without awareness and commitment to understanding others’ perspectives, this divide widens. No longer are the two sides speaking the same language or listening with an openness to hear and learn. Isn’t everyone on the same team? Doesn’t the barista want to work in and for an engaging company with a great product that is financially fluid? Yes. Don’t executives want to provide exceptional service, a great product that grows the customer base, and create an atmosphere that attracts excellent talent? Yes. So why the tension and push-pull of anxiety, anger, and dissatisfaction?

  • Lack of opportunities to connect and share ideas

  • Tunnel vision: not considering the ripple effect on others and not integrating imagination and creativity to serve more efficiently i.e. “I see the problem but, it is not my job to solve.”

On a recent consulting gig, I spoke to an accomplished medical provider about the program’s inefficiencies. She quickly admitted to all of the workarounds and ineffective practices which negatively affect patient care. She had ideas on how to improve them yet, had not acted on any of them. She “stayed in her lane” and did the assigned work. This individual suffers from a lack of confidence and the inability to see beyond her “job.” Also, she has not been given permission or a forum to discuss her findings and create solutions to improve the program.

There are several ways to correct or prevent this dynamic.

  1. As the leader, get out from behind your desk and learn what it takes to make your company successful. Actually, “do” the work, scoop the ice cream, sell the shoes, make the trade, or participate in hospital rounds. Not until you live their experience will you truly understand your team’s perspective and pain. Just the act of seeing you amidst their colleagues will begin to close the gap. Your presence says, “I want to understand and know you. I want to feel what you feel so I can fully support you.”

  2. Lead with transparency. Share your burdens and the complex decisions you are faced with. Shielding your team from these discussions will not create trust and safety. If you have hired the right people, the answers are within them. It is the team that will provide solutions and innovations but not without you sharing your story.

  3. Hire leaders, not just followers. We absolutely need a mixture of both but hire too many followers, and you will stifle innovation and creativity. Hire people with the innate ability to see problems before they arise, are solution-oriented, and become bored with the status quo. You want people who are creators, not just maintainers.

  4. Go to the source and ask for feedback. All the answers are in the room, but people often will not offer insights until you permit them to do so. I'd like to encourage you to ask various people. We tend to ask the same people or the same level of people every time. Create conversations with the employees who stock the shelves, clean the floors, and prep the meal. They hold so much insight and knowledge and often have the answers you are looking for since, let’s be honest, they are the brunt of much of our dysfunction.

  5. Finally, words matter. Replace “I” with “we”. If you don’t see your company as a unified team, neither will they. Your success is carried on the shoulders of many; creating opportunities for others to lead and innovate will elevate the entire team.

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