I have noticed something. The more senior someone is in an organisation, the more likely they are to be the furthest away from its actual activities. CEOs seem to relish in being on the top floor, in the far corner, locked away in private offices, away from the door, or nearest the windows (with the best view and light I might add). What are they hiding, or what are they hiding from, I wonder? Their location results in them being far away from the hustle and bustle of the activities of their organisation, its workforce, and its end users.
I’ve been in plenty of corporate headquarters in all sectors (private, charitable, and public) and seen this happen time and time again. I’ve also seen it in too many local council offices, and early years and childcare settings (including children’s centres). In contrast, I’ve been looked after by some amazing people on reception, and sometimes struggled to identify the boss.
Strikes me there’s a whole load of wasted opportunities here. If you are so far away from what is happening, you aren’t noticing the day-to-day reality of your team’s activity and practice. Nor are you witnessing first-hand the lived-experiences of those receiving a service or product. How can you be sure of the outcomes and impact? You don’t get the chance to overhear ad-hoc or natural conversations, read people’s body language, or contemplate how things are going across all aspects of the business. You aren’t doing your own research on your own organisation. That is an oversight. Instead, you run the risk of relying upon data or information, that could have been manipulated by others, and presented to you in a form that suits the convenience of the message-giver. Think, about it, your head of HR tells you that all is well in, er, HR! the customer service lead tells you all customers are happy and delighted, and so on. That type of report has its place in any organisation, but triangulate it! Base your thinking and actions on what you observe yourself, and what you are being told, from more than two sources. That has a greater chance of giving you good information. That means being in the thick of it.
Think undercover boss. I love that US TV programme that sends CEOs of large corporate businesses, in disguise, to work on the shop floor. They get to mix with the workforce, engage directly with customers, and navigate the workplace systems. More often than not, they learn better about what their workforce needs, and they improve and recognise loyalty and innovation, typically accepting ideas and helping to put them into action. They listen to the direct experience of customers and make service or product improvements. They overhaul unhelpful systems and processes, and bring in new, better-informed, and practical ones to make things easier and more effective. They invest time and energy in real and authentic interactions for everyone’s benefit. What else?
- Move your location permanently, or for temporary periods.
- Make time to mix and mingle, at different times, with different objectives.
- Experience the service – if you can, which is easier said than done.
- Observe things in their natural and informal state – unannounced, don’t wait for announced visits – they rarely feel authentic.
- Engage with and listen to the customer – informally, using probing or investigative questioning styles.
- Use real the experiences, thoughts and feelings you collect for everyone’s benefit.
Every boss needs to be on reception – what better place could there be to make all that happen?
1 thought on “Bosses should sit on reception – and this is why.”
A great idea and well worth putting into practice for all the reasons you mention and for many bosses. When I was a boss within a LA just finding the time to do this would have been difficult. Aware that we can all make time for things that are important to us as individuals but when your boss has deadlines for complex reports and data analysis which you have to compile the idea of multi-tasking (and many know the pitfalls of this) – I don’t do it – having a place to work in ‘the thick’ of the organisation to observe practice and informal business and employee/client interactions etc was a problem. I did occasionally use my ear defenders in an open plan office to limit the noise (a necessity at times) but that in itself probably sent out the wrong messages! I like the idea of ‘under cover’ though – just not easy to implement in many EY settings. I do like the bullet points at the end – food for thought and well worth sharing. Thank you!
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