This fact was driven home to me the other day as I listened in on a phone conference led by a regional manager named Pete who manages a group of customer service teams spread across the northern half of the United States. My purpose in joining the call was to gather background information to help me prepare for a project that Pete’s boss hired me to do.
It was recommended that I shadow Pete for a few days to learn more about the company. Pete was selected because he is widely respected at all levels in the organization. He uses many different avenues to stay in touch with his organization, from the front-line employees on up to his direct reports.
One of the ways Pete stays “plugged in” is by holding Town Hall-style conference calls during which he informally chats with employees and addresses their questions. Pete briefed me on the call’s agenda: he was going to gather input on a proposed change in company policy that would impact the way his front-line employees handle customer complaints. Pete’s take on the proposed change: “I’m 90% sure the people on the call [the front-line customer service supervisors] will say they want to do X with the policy, but I’m going to put it out there for discussion to look for any slight modifications we’ll need to make in the recommendation to senior management.”
So imagine Pete’s surprise when the majority of the group recommended not “X” but “Q” as the preferred change to the policy. Pete had misjudged the importance of the underlying issue that people on the front-lines were grappling with. They acknowledged that issue “X” was important, but it wasn’t root cause. Making tweaks to the policy with option “Q” would best address the issue, they advised.
When Pete and I debriefed after the call, he ruefully muttered, “Wow, so much for being 90% sure.” It’s a good thing that Pete works continually on staying tuned in with his region. Imagine the fallout if he had relied only on his self-rated 90% score and proceeded in making a recommendation to senior management.
If it can happen to a competent, plugged-in leader like Pete, it can happen to any leader. Do yourself a favor and double-check your “gut” impression. Most of the time, it’s on target, but occasionally faulty wiring fries the quality of your perceptions.
Looking for specific ways to stayed tuned in to your team? See my article Leadership Reality Check: 5 ways to tell if you’re really in touch on the Smart Brief on Leadership blog.