Leaders can learn a great deal on the frontlines, not only about the inner workings of the products they produce and the services they offer but also about their employees:
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk sees being on the production line and understanding it an integral part of his job. Musk famously declared, “I have a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to the production line, which I use quite frequently.” He has helped his California factory hit its production goals—even “real-time triaging cars at the end of the line trying to get to the root cause of what the issues were.”
- Amazon requires its deskbound managers to attend two days of call-center training. CEO Jeff Bezos said in 2007, “Every new employee, no matter how senior or junior, has to go spend time in our fulfillment centers within the first year of employment. Every two years they do two days of customer service. Everyone has to be able to work in a call center. … I just got recertified about six months ago. The fact that I did a lot of customer service in the first two years has not exempted me.”
- Subway Restaurants’ chief development officer Don Fertman appeared incognito as a “sandwich artist” for a week on the popular CBS Undercover Boss reality TV show in 2010. Fertman remarked that this ground-level perspective offered managerial empathy and led to better decisions. Subway’s senior-level executives are now required to spend a week every year in the field, becoming aware of how their choices influence franchisees and customers.
Idea for Impact: The frontlines offer leaders unfiltered information
Leaders, don’t risk the ego trap of losing touch with the frontline experience.
Venture out of the office and work directly with frontline employees. Even do the work of those they lead for a while. You’ll break down the hierarchy and glean a valuable new perspective.