I’m always fascinated to be in the unique position of participant and observer in the boardrooms of so many different businesses – to be part of making decisions and then to see them come alive, as a customer. Sometimes, even when we have a beautiful intent, by the time they are executed – or not – on the front line, they’re either very different than intended or there are additional repercussions that we didn’t anticipate.

That’s why I always go back to the early days of my career, when I worked on the front lines, where we often had conversations about how out-of-touch the executives and leaders of our companies seemed to be.

Playing Office

And that’s why, to the best of my ability, I always try to consider strategy execution decisions by the impact they make on frontline employees, in production or service – the people who are usually the ones creating the most value and great experiences for customers. I call being on the front lines as having your steel-toed boots on, versus your Italian-made loafers, in the boardroom.

Very often, people on the front lines don’t understand why the decisions made are better for the company – and, often, leaders just don’t understand what happens on the front line enough to make decisions that actually make it easier for employees to do their job.

I call it ‘playing office’ when executive leaders are disconnected from the factory floor, the store or the call centre or wherever the customer experience happens.

That’s why we always encourage the CEO and leaders, throughout the organization, to get out, onto the frontline to talk to the customers, to talk to the vendors and to talk the employees. They must go there to touch it, smell it, feel it, taste it and hear it.

Two Different Approaches

I’ve been watching how companies interpret, respond to and implement new health and safety regulations for COVID. Some handle it exceptionally well, and others not, which I recently found when I visited two wineries in the Okanagan region of Canada. The contrast was shocking.

Rightly so, there are strict regulations in wineries that offer on-site tastings. The first winery I visited moved their tasting room into tents, in their vineyard – a brilliant idea that actually enhanced our experience. We were protected from the sun and had special, socially distanced tasting stations that were sanitized constantly. Even though we had to wait a few minutes longer than normal, they did an exceptional job creating an exceptional experience, and the energy was absolutely amazing.

The second, much-better known winery felt like a regimented, institutional experience. Everything was very structured, from the process to get into the building to the tasting. Staff were uptight, almost with a look of terror in their eyes. Interaction with the staff was not fun at all so, at one point, I commented to one member that everyone seemed really serious. She responded by pointing out a woman on the side, explaining she was from head office to watch them and ensure they were being compliant.

Now, I believe that policies to protect our health and safety are very, very important and that doing the right thing is non-negotiable. But destroying the employees’ ability to deliver great service with joy and engagement impacts the customer experience.

This outcome defines the crossroads between effective and ineffective leadership. There are leaders who enforce policies in a way that shuts people down, and others who find a way to implement them and keep the sparkle in an employees’ eyes and joy in their connection with customers. Whatever the second winery’s leaders were doing missed the mark.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we all serve one boss and that’s the customer. And the second that we forget it and ‘play office’ too much, we end up making bad decisions that affect our customers and our employees, and our bottom line – and don’t realize it.

Now, more than ever, it’s time to slip off those loafers and lace up your steel-toed boots.

The Challenge

  • Where might you have policies in your business that are being you know implemented as a directive from head office?
  • How can you find a way for them to be delivered in a way that enhances employee engagement and the customer experience?