Thursday, 11 June 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.


A journey called Life said...

ohh thaz a nice link- read it and seemed like such a novel idea (but remember how fables in india are replete with stories of kings going undercover to find out whatz happening in their kingdom- sort of connecting with the grass roots).
i think when one keeps climbing the corporate ladder, the view of where the all the action takes place (i mean at the grass roots) becomes more like a birds eye all that u have mentioned (about being where the action is) seems like a good idea if well implemented..
nice post.. (i keep telling myself to stop saying this, coz almost all ur posts are nice by default)

thethoughtfultrain said...

Reading this post made me think of how the kings disguised themselves as ordinary folks and tried to find out the state of affairs of their country. This post was a good read Ramesh, you make it sound so interesting!

le embrouille blogueur said...

Great post Ramesh ....reminds me of the several hundred meetings that the management attends all year round where decisions are made on the drawing board with little relevance to the reality.Fold the cuffs and get ready to face the music....superb write up.

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - I had completely forgotten about the fables of Indian kings. You are absolutely right - they faced the same problem. And I'll keep saying thanks for your kind comments as they light me up.

@thoughtful train - Yes, their parallels with Indian kings hadn't occured to me. Thanks

@blogueur - Yeah - I often wonder at how much energy is spent on "communication' , including those numerous meetings, and how much short the results fall.

Preeti Shenoy said...

Lovely post.
Remindd me of the times when Emperor Akbar used to go undercover and walk the streets as a common man, trying to really understand the citizens problems and living conditions.Everyone knows what a great ruler he was.
I applaud the honesty in this post.

Preeti Shenoy said...

Just made this comment and then discovered AJCL has said the same :)

Kiwibloke said...

Ricardo Semler (the Brazilian) has always been an inspiration for me (His first act on the very first day as the 25year old CEO was to fire 60% of his senior management!)
Martin Walker promises to be yet another. The advantage of being in touch with the boys is that you remain young at heart!

rads said...

Quite thought provoking...just like what Akbar did in fables...its a cool idea and I guess should be implemented more often.

Ramesh said...

@Preeti - Thanks. Yes the Akbar analogy is a perfect one.

@kiwi - Semler is in a different league of his own - his concept of industrial democracy is very appealing but little practiced. His firing of managers on taking over though, I believe, was to simply get even with his father !

@Rads - Yes the Akbar analogy should have been mentioned by me in the write up itself. It never occured to me !

Reflections said...

Very interesting read!!!!
U knw, the Ruler of Dubai did tht once or twice...
He reached the Govt offices before 9 in the morning & suspended all officials who reached 10 mins after the time. It made everybody cautious for a while:-).

Ramesh said...

Oh did he ? That would have been a sight indeed.

The Sheikh in mufti ?? Surely not ...

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