How Accessible Are You to Your Employees and Customers?
Recently, I have had several occasions where trying to reach someone was next to impossible. The convenience of technology to answer phones, redirect calls, set up auto-responders, and send scheduled posts have given us the luxury of designing our workday with less interruptions. However, the flip side is that automation cannot fully replace the human aspect of the workplace. There are still times when an employee needs a question answered from their supervisor to be productive in carrying out their own duties. There are times when a customer has received poor service and needs resolution by someone in higher authority. There are times when a vendor or supplier may actually have a solution to a long-standing problem within your organization. Where are you when these times crop up? Are you the type of leader who leads through directive emails and superior delegation from behind closed doors? If you are not accessible, what opportunities might you be missing?
Granted, there are times when solitude is necessary to accomplish progress on a major project, strategic initiative, or creative endeavor. The challenge happens when that becomes a leadership style that is adopted routinely day-in and day-out. There are missed opportunities for employee engagement, fostering teamwork, positive customer experiences, and simply learning more about your organization and what your customers and employees really want. Miscommunications occur more easily, mistakes can happen more frequently, and customers may choose a different direction rather than risk another less than stellar experience with the same company. The end result could be that by the time you surface to survey what is happening around you, the action may have moved elsewhere. To be proactive, rather than reactive, in being aware of what you are overseeing, here are five actionable steps that you can begin to implement to be more accessible in your daily operations:
- Block Scheduling - Block scheduling is a way of organizing your day where you break your workday into chunks or blocks of time. Within those blocks of time, you work relatively uninterrupted on one project or priority on your to-do list. Through the use of block scheduling, you give yourself the solitude you need to be productive for a set period of time, without jeopardizing your accessibility to others between blocks. It may even be beneficial to utilize several blocks of time to implement the remaining action items listed here.
- MBWA or Management by Walking Around - This term, first coined by Tom Peters, a management and leadership expert, simply means taking the time to walk around listening to the ideas and concerns of employees and customers throughout your workplace. This is an invaluable method of learning what is going right and what needs improvement from those that are experiencing it firsthand.
- Stay Interviews - Many companies and HR departments conduct exit interviews when an employee is leaving, but is that the best time to learn that there is a problem? Once an employee loses motivation and becomes disengaged at work, it is very difficult to regain the momentum and buy-in of the company vision and mission that has been lost. When good employees are on the way out the door, it is usually too late to correct what went wrong to keep them. Additionally, they may not even care enough to share why they are leaving, so at this point in the game, your chance of gaining anything is slim. It is a much better idea to interview your employees before they become disengaged to find out why they stay with you, and proactively address any issues that crop up while they are small enough to be corrected.
- Customer Satisfaction Surveys - Taking the time to learn what makes your consumers happy can go a long way toward keeping them happy and coming back to you as repeat business. If you don't know what they like or what the current trends are, how can you know if you are supplying their wants and meeting their needs? By taking the time to be accessible if a customer asks to speak with you, walking around and having spontaneous conversations with them, and conducting formal surveys, as well as reading online reviews of course, can shed invaluable insight on what you AND your employees are doing right or wrong in the eyes of your customers.
- Be a Customer of Your Competition - If you don't know what your competition is doing, how do you know what benchmark you are being compared to by both your employees and your customers? From an employee perspective, this is a job-seekers market right now with so many available jobs nationwide and the gig economy becoming aggressive pursued for the desired work-life balance it provides. At least for the foreseeable future, the compensation package and company culture can be shopped like an open marketplace, so employees no longer feel they need to stay where they are not valued or compensated properly. From a customer perspective, with the availability of online reviews and virtually unlimited resources at their fingertips with one click, they now have more purchasing power than ever before.
It is imperative in today's business environment to know what is going on outside of your door and computer to stay relevant, competitive, effective, and high-performing. To have true leadership presence, you must be present, and to accomplish that, you must be accessible to your stakeholders. Anything less is a disservice to yourself, your leadership effectiveness, and those to whom your presence can make a day, a deal, or a difference.