Great view from the top, but don’t be blinded by what you can see!
As you rise within an organisation or your business grows, one of the key challenges as the business leader is, you become distant from what's happening on the ground i.e., at the coal face.
You may hold regular senior management team meetings, 1-2-1s with your direct reports, and have enough data, reports and analytics to paper your office. But, how do you really know what's going on?
And particularly how, based on what you know, do you ensure your decisions are effective and have a positive impact, not just the people that work for you but, your customers, new and old, and other key stakeholders too.
So, as a business leader don't get blindsided by what you see and hear!
We've all had employees telling us what we want to hear, or reports skewed to show progress rather than what's actually happening on the group. Unless you can obtain accurate, robust information and able to verify the facts or the feelings and underlying culture within your organisation, your insight and decision making process will be clouded.
Interestingly, the above scenario has been a common discussion point recently with a number of my associates and organisations that we engage with.
The Business Culture Iceberg model is one way to fully understand this challenge through a visual, and how a good number of the key elements that influence and mould a business are out of view. Whilst this can me a major challenge for business leaders, the view portrayed externally, can also determine how the perception is set for your organisation from those key stakeholders such as, customers, suppliers and associates looking in.
In 1976 Edward T. Hall, suggested that organisation culture was similar to an iceberg and that only about 10% of the culture can been seen, felt, heard or tasted, i.e. visible, whereas 90% of the culture is hidden below the surface.
Link to model example, pdf. https://uca.edu/training/files/2019/09/Culture-as-an-Iceberg.pdf
As a business leader you may well have a good feel and understanding for more than 10% that goes on within your business, however there will be gaps and you'll be blindsided from what you see and hear.
So, how do you build more understanding, knowledge of all the nuances at play? From my experience as a leader in past, I would suggest the following 4 core points are somewhere to start.
- Never Assume! What's that adage? Because it will make an "Ass" out of "u" and "me". So, stay curious, dig deeper and get down to the nub and "last drop". One way to approach this is to keep asking Why? Why are we seeing this?; Why and on what basis, have you come to this decision?; Why haven't I heard about this before? Etc.
- Make the time to walk around the business, at least daily. Not to just say, morning, afternoon, but again to be curious, through asking open questions. Some examples might be, So, what is it you're focusing on today? How do you normally deal with the daily workload challenges? What have you noticed that's been different lately? Where do you think as a business we can improve? Now this is not micro-management but ensuring that a) you are visible and available and also b) a chance to really understand what's going on, from the shop floor.
- Another good tip I was given was, once a month, spend the day with your Sales, Business Development team either in the office or even better, go out to see customers together. Alternatively spend time with your Operations team, visiting suppliers etc. As you'll gain a broader insight from an external perspective.
- Build trusted networks with likeminded business leaders, across industries and sectors. As what you're seeing, or not, as the case maybe, others are experiencing the same too! Through developing relationships and trusted networks with peers, this will give you an opportunity to not just have an outlet for a sounding board but also share and learn from others experiences too.
"We're blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We're not designed to know how little we know" Daniel Kahneman
Now I'm sure there are a lot of other areas and ideas you can focus on to obtain a better and fuller understanding on what makes your business tick. Therefore, should you have some examples or wish to share, either pop a note in the comments below, or give me a shout, as I'm more than happy to meet and discuss over a coffee.
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