I was watching a show the other day called Undercover Boss which sees senior executives of a company working undercover in their own firm to investigate how the company really works and identify how it can be improved.
It is essentially built on the old saying “walk a mile in my shoes” as well as the concept that staff should spend time working in other peoples roles in their organisations – although not under the veil of secrecy – to gain an appreciation of other parts of the business.
Truth be told, I have ever seen it actually happen.
The episode I watched saw an Australian woman, Marija Simovic, become the new CEO of Harry Ramsdens, Britain's best loved fish and chips restaurant chain. Marija joined Harry Ramsdens when it was a struggling brand hit hard by the recession and increased fast food competition.
Marija spends time at 3 different outlets and spends time with a young assistant manager, waitresses and kitchen staff, all the time working like she is one of them.
What she uncovers is bizarre. Systems so broken that people with no business acumen would immediately see that they don’t work. She encounters equipment that has been broken for a long time (12-18 months) and which increase waiting times for customers by 50-100%, ultimately putting pressure on staff.
I shook my head a lot but none of it really surprised me. How often do manager’s just expect people to get on with it?
What did strike me was the underlying theme of love. That’s right, love, and it underpinned Marija’s views and the staff.
Strangely, there seemed to be a lot of bottom up love from the staff as, despite the obvious problems with systems, store layout, lack of support and broken equipment, the staff kept working there. Why wouldn’t they just go and find a job where all the deep fryers worked? Cooking fish n chips is cooking fish in chips right? Waiting tables is waiting tables? Right?
Maybe. But if you love the brand, like these staff did, then you stay put.
So I wondered what would make people leave a job and a quick and dirty Google search here, here, here and here confirmed that the none of the major reasons people leave is because they don’t like the brand.
Think about it. People put their blood, sweat and tears into working for a brand and they become immersed in it. If you are running a service business, and who isn’t today, then it isn’t your customers who are the most important and it certainly isn’t the shareholders. Your staff, providing the service are the most important because the service they deliver directly effects customer satisfaction and ultimately the shareholders.
So next time the balance sheet or sales funnel isn’t looking too rosy then do a Marija. Your staff in the trenches, and not your middle or top level managers, will be the ones who can give you the best insights. They are ones on the front line, delivering services and using your systems and equipment.
More importantly, they probably love the brand. Most importantly, they are likely the ones who will be most affected by your new fangled system or targets. Best you have their buy-in from the start.
Your problem is that you are probably already know as a manager who doesn’t really care about their problems. So the trick for you is to build their trust and provide an environment where they can be open and honest about the business.
Good luck. Think you might need it.