While working on a sales desk some time ago, my team and I were told that we were going to be visited by some of the senior executives of the organization for a half-day. The goal, they said, was for the senior members of our organization to spend some time with us to see what we do first hand to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day issues we faced. This would ultimately help with their strategic decision-making going forward.

To prepare for this visit, my team and I had meetings to cover what would be expected of us and which people would be targeted as those that the executives would most likely shadow for the day. We then had a stream of meetings to review what the routine would be for that day and what we were going to try to accomplish. Some of these meetings were to serve as reminders of existing policy and some were meant to highlight the things that needed to be emphasized or deemphasized during the visit with the senior leaders.

At the time, I did see a lot of value in senior leaders spending time with my team. What bothered me about the process the most, however, was that there had to be special attention given to the visit. I didn’t agree that when senior executives were coming to the office for the day there should be special meetings or advance warning of any kind.  Later on in my career, when I became a sales manager at another organization, I used this instance from my past as a building block for my management style.  I feel very strongly that it is important for senior executives in organizations to spend time with teams like the one I was a part of. It is one thing for managers to report things to senior executives, but it is also very worthwhile for them to sit down and see for themselves. Every person on the team should be operating as if the CEO of the organization is sitting right next to them at all times.  If a team member determines that part of their workday should be spent browsing the internet, that is fine.  It is part of the day.  If someone makes a great sales call, that is excellent. On to the next one.  If someone on the team makes a mistake on the phone, that is ok. How can we learn from that mistake and scale it out to the rest of the team? You should feel comfortable and encourage the mentality that the CEO could and should be watching all of this.

As a leader it should be your goal to get your organization to the point where you trust that, if anyone within the organization, no matter what level, were going to come in and spend time with your team, you would feel proud to show them what is happening on a day-to-day basis.  Here are some steps that I’ve found useful to help you get to that point:

  1. Do it yourself. Do you operate yourself as if the CEO is with you all of the time? Times to self-assess how you are spending your own time include first thing in the morning, when traveling on the corporate account, when sending in your expense reports, when no one is looking, when you are out late on a Thursday night, and basically in any other situation. If you don’t operate like the CEO is with you at all times, why should your team? You need to set the example.
  1. Learn from your team. Sit down with trusted members of your team, team leaders, senior employees and new hires, and ask them what they feel are outstanding issues that need to be addressed within the team.  Some of these issues may be quick fixes and others may be long-term adjustments.  Conversations like these should occur regularly with different members of the team to constantly make improvements on multiple levels.
  1. Hear what’s being said when no one is listening.  It’s hard to get honest feedback all of the time by asking questions deliberately.  You don’t always get the truth.  Instead, it is important to find out what’s going on after hours between peers, when there’s downtime on the job, or on the weekends.  By knowing what is being talked about away from the nine-to-five you can get a better understanding of some of the potential hang-ups of the job. One of the best ways to get information like this is to have people in your organization, and on your team, that you can trust to deliver honesty, even if it’s painful to hear.
  1. Understand everyone’s goals for the future.  Regardless of the jobs that people have now, people are usually thinking about what’s next.  If you don’t have any idea what’s next for people on your team, you need to figure it out, because taking an interest in the goals of people on your team will help you can gain insight into the reasons why they think and act the way that they do. If people know that their manager understands their overall goals, then the manager can also become an advocate for you within the organization.
  1. Reward people when they aren’t expecting it.  Sales contests and employee reward programs can be valuable tools to help foster a competitive culture within an organization.  For every contest or program that’s created, however, there are people that will disengage and others that will try to figure out a way to game the system instead of just getting the job done.  Complement your contests or campaigns with recognition that isn’t announced ahead of time.  This will help your team better understand the need for consistency instead of transactional hard work.
  1. Address issues with individuals immediately and one on one.  When you are consistently auditing your team, there are inevitably going to be issues that come up.  It’s a given.  It’s important to address these issues as soon as you become aware of them, explain why the issue exists, how it is effecting the employee and team, and what the plan looks like going forward to make changes. In doing so, you will build a culture of professional growth within your team where people avoid stagnation. By constantly fostering a culture designed to improve the team’s performance you will also be enhancing the team’s brand throughout other parts of the organization organically.
  1. Invite anyone, at any time, in the organization to come in and spend time with your team.  Do this with a caveat.  No matter who it is, from junior prospective hire to senior leader, ask them to spend time thinking about three questions that you will ask them after their visit:
  • What does our team do well that you didn’t expect?
  • If you could make one change to the group what change would that be and how would you roll it out?
  • If you were the leader of this team, what would keep you up at night?

By getting answers to these questions from someone outside of the everyday functions of the team you will get a third party view of things that you may not be noticing. Some of their answers may be helpful and some you might not agree with, but by having a conversation about them you will be able to better understand the brand your team projects throughout the organization and the enhancements you need to make to improve it.

Some of the points outlined above are not easy to put into effect, and many of them take an immense amount of time, but they can go a long way towards building an environment you can be proud of in your organization. By operating every day as if the CEO of the organization is right beside you and instilling that idea as part of the culture of your team, you will find more people working towards the success of the group and striving to be great together.