The senior-most managers of an organisation must spend one week every month doing the work of the rank and file. Doing, not observing. Spend a day taking customer support calls, spend a day selling, spend a day developing a new function, spend a day testing, spend a day delivering a project, spend a day doing the hiring, spend a day ordering stock. Repeat, every month of the year. No slacking off this. There is time for it. Talk less, meet less, e-mail less. The five days will emerge.
There’ll be several benefits. It will allow highly compensated executives to produce something tangible. Some may find a sense of personal satisfaction in it, but all will benefit from the respect gained from those who do the physical work of the enterprise.
Leading, planning and directing will benefit from unmediated exposure to the realities of the organisation, the market and suppliers. No, this cannot be acquired from review meetings. Do it to know it.
The directors, c-suite executives and presidents (!) will understand their people better, appreciate their needs, see their points of view, connect with them, help and motivate them with substance. The leaders’ hubris will be coloured with humility, grandiloquence with utility, prayer with confidence. There is tremendous power in this for the success of the organisation.
So am I saying that top management does not do real work? Am I saying it does not have special skills? No, it does strive, and abilities are involved, but it also produces nothing for a significant portion of its time, and, in complacency, loses touch with the realities of the company and ecosystem.
A number of the directors and c-suite executives will have risen up through the levels, starting at or near the bottom. But this is not good enough. Time passes, memories fade. Time passes, realities change.
A top executive who maintains depth by experiencing at all layers will be excellent for the enterprise. One who doesn’t is probably a liability.
Shashi on LinkedIn