Today, perhaps more than ever before, leaders need to get closer to the "real world." By that I mean they need to become better at understanding what their clients feel and what their employees think.
In demanding times it's particularly important that leaders get honest feedback and consider all options and opinions. But at the same time, because they are busier than usual because of demands, leaders usually spend less time keeping in touch with their team or their clients.
Here are some field-tested ideas I've seen used successfully by others. Add a few of these to your own management toolbox and become more successful:
1. Set up communication hotlines -- These can be emails, phones, and paper tools. However you do it, put something into place that allows people to provide candid, honest feedback or ask questions, without having to identify themselves or fear getting busted.
2. Use public communication tools -- If you have a newsletter, use it to keep folks aware of what's going on and deal with rumors, which are harmful. Publish Q & As.
3. Hand out anonymous surveys -- These are great tools for getting your fingers on the pulse of the organization. But don't overthink them. They should be done fairly quickly and fairly frequently. Also, have the guts to make the results public afterward. That shows the employee base that you're aware of their concerns. If you can't provide a fix, at least let them know that you care about the problem and will try to deal with it when you can.
4. Have lunch with a group of employees -- Periodically, have a lunch meeting with folks from all levels attending. Make it clear that there will be time at the end of it for a question-and-answer session if the group is more than 12 individuals. If the group is small, make a point to sit beside the quiet one(s) and encourage them to open up.
5. Visit client offices or locations -- The best way to open up communication is to show that you're accessible and interested. I don't care how often someone says they care about what's going on in other locations, if they're never there they won't hear enough.
6. Get your own devil's advocate -- People figure out pretty quickly if the leader only wants to hear what he wants to hear. If you show that you appreciate a healthy debate, you're more likely to get differing ideas thrown about.
7. Show another side of yourself -- One of the founding senior execs at DIRECTV was famous for showing up in cube environments and throwing Nerf footballs with anyone at work after 6pm or on weekends. It was a kind of a "jock" thing, but even those less-than-jock types could throw the little soft football around. It provided a bit of bonding conversation and built trust between the leader and the team.
8. Walk around with your hands in your pockets -- If you're serious about wanting to encourage honest feedback and candid comments, expose yourself to your clients and team members more often. Wander the halls, dropping in on your folks; spend time on email just "checking in" with your clients. You are going to hear things that, otherwise, you may not have come across.
People who really want to know what's going on in their organizations do these things. Those who don't probably don't really want to know, despite what they say.
<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> John
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.