A friend was telling me about some of their small business problems and how difficult it was getting the executive-level leadership to understand the day-to-day issues that employees were dealing with. She was telling me about the major disconnect between upper management and employees who interact with the customers.
The conversation reminded me of a study done in 1989 by Sidney Yshido called The Iceberg of Ignorance. It was research which suggested that senior level management is often so far removed from day-to-day business operations that they fail to understand the systems and processes that affect both employees and customers. The most alarming result of this study suggests that this Iceberg of Ignorance can have an impact on company profits by as much as 40%!
So what makes senior leaders so clueless?
Leaders have the responsibility for recognizing and solving business problems and executive level leadership should be aware of the issues employees face that affect their ability to meet the needs of customers.
Unfortunately, these executives often aren't aware of organizational problems leaving them ill-equipped to help resolve issues. It is for this reason that having a structured process to collect and analyze performance data is critical to effective management practices that affect the customer experience.
Whether it is outdated computer software, faulty equipment or broken processes - executive leadership should be aware so they can help facilitate positive change for employees and ultimately customers.
The most troubling aspect of these study findings is that the very people who have the responsibility and ability to solve problems seem to be the very ones who don't even know the problems exist for the employees who are responsible for serving the customer.
4 Ways to Better Understand Issues that Affect the Customer
1. Engage Employees in Conversation
There is much that can be learned with simple conversations so having a structured process for interacting with employees is critical. When senior leaders interact with employees, issues are brought to light, employees feel valued and there is a better understanding of what workers deal with on a day-to-day basis.
I experienced a great model for this at a former employer. Employees were invited to have lunch with the president of the organization on their milestone employment anniversary date. A monthly lunch was hosted by senior executives and employees were encouraged to share thoughts, ideas and job challenges. This model worked really well and acted as an encouragement to staff and often resulted in quick problem resolution. It is amazing how process bottlenecks are eliminated when a directive comes from top level leaders.
2. Collect and Study Data
Data provides information to effectively manage any type of organization. Identifying the Critical Success Factors that determine organizational achievement is one way to collect and study pertinent data that gauges organizational performance. Executives should understand and know how to interpret this kind of data so they can understand common business problems and influence positive change.
3. Walk Around and Mingle with Employees
Employees enjoy interacting with senior leaders and are eager to share information about work processes. It is always fascinating to see what can be learned by interacting with employees on the front-line. This kind of approach sends a message to employees that leadership cares about what happens on the front-line and walking around provides managers the opportunity to observe employee behaviors, how they respond to customers and issues that may not be captured by data collection.
4. Experience the Product or Service
Managers should be familiar with all products and services and take the time to experience what the customer experiences. So whether it is observing the printing press and checking the quality of a finished print job or sampling the food in a restaurant, senior level managers should know exactly what the customer experiences so they can help facilitate improvement opportunities.
Today's economic climate and increasing competition, demands quality products and services. Leaders at all levels of an organization need to be aware of issues that affect the customer experience and are responsible for getting involved in resolving issues to help influence positive change. Customers in this environment don't have the patience to wait for improvements to be made which makes it even more critical for leaders to break the Iceberg of Ignorance or suffer its impact on the bottom-line.
Are you aware of all the issues affecting your organization?