Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Do you know what goes on in your company ?

Here’s something to provoke you. The more senior you are, the less you know your own company.

You spend a lifetime slogging away to do what ? Reach the corner office. Shut yourself in a huge cabin. Place two pretty secretaries between you and anybody who wants to reach you. Hear what you want to hear. Be told what others think you want to listen to. Do you know your company any more ??

Communication in the work place is one of those funny things – despite all the noise and bustle, it seldom takes place effectively. From the top down , you get those unbelievable newsletters filled with platitudes. Write up on how great we are doing and how we must all tighten our belts to face the future. The odd photos of some employee who has got married or somebody who got some award. Grinning photos of the completely untelegenic CEO. I’m yet to see any company newsletter that’s even remotely readable.

From the bottom up, you get completely slanted news. If it’s a presentation, its about how great a job the presenter is doing, with all figures massaged to that effect. If it’s a report, it’s the same thing, with reams of statistics (remember lies, damned lies and statistics …). If its employee interaction forums, you can bet your last dollar that some boring inane question will be asked; who wants to kill himself saying the truth that the place stinks.

I chanced upon a superb article in the Financial Times, which prompted this post. It narrated the story of Stephen Martin the 43-year-old CEO of the Clugston Group, based in the UK. For two weeks, he changed his name to Martin Walker, grew a beard and went undercover and worked as an ordinary shop floor employee in his own company. None of his fellow workers guessed who he was. And he learnt more about his company in those two weeks than ever before.

It’s a great thought. If you really want to know what’s happening, drop the mask of CEO (or dept head, manager, whatever) and go incognito. Become “one of the boys”. And listen. You’ll get to know a lot about your organization. Same with the consumer or customer. Go incognito to the customer. Or to the place where your products are sold. And listen. Become the telephone operator of your company for a day – I can guarantee that you will know ten things about your company you had no clue about. Become a supplier trying to get a payment from your company – you’ll know helluva lot of stuff about your own accounts dept. Become an ordinary employee and discover the hell that masquerades as HR.

But even on a day to day basis – get out of the corner office. In fact get out of any cubicle, walls, partitions, or whatever that tries to shut you off from everybody around. Fire those pretty ladies. Keep an hour a day when anybody can just come and chat. Walk around a lot. Shed your cloak and become one of the boys. Listen, Listen and Listen. And talk, talk and talk.

You may discover the meaning of the word communication. And discover that your company is a completely different place from what you thought.