You know executive visits are important. And let’s face it, they come more naturally to some of us than others. Executive visits can backfire, or they can be brilliant. They can be casual or deliberate. Sometimes just wandering around is exactly what you and your team need. You just show up and listen, smell and feel.
AND I would argue that the leaders I see best leveraging executive visits as a key component of their communication plan design their visits as deliberately as they do the rest of their strategy.
They consider carefully–why am I showing up? What do I want my team to think, feel and do as a result of my being there?
And they show up to answer that question.
5 Ways to Focus Your Executive Visits For More Influence and Impact
Before we start, I’m going to assume you’ve mastered the essential elements of MBWA (management by wandering around) versus OCHTC (“Oh crap, here they come.” If you missed that popular post, start here.
Beyond that, here are four approaches to strategic executive visits that can help reinforce and build a Winning Well culture.
The Purpose: Sharing Vision; Reinforcing MIT Goals and Behaviors; Leading By Example
The Approach: On a visit like this, you’ve got one or two strategic priorities you want to be sure everyone understands. There are lots of ways to do this. Do your homework and find out about your local role models of desired behaviors — spend time with them and celebrating them. Strategic storytelling works great for a visit like this. Share your personal (or customer) stories connecting what you’re asking people to do to why.
One of my favorite clarity approaches to executive visits in my Verizon store executive role was to just spend time on the floor of the store, talking to customers and modeling the behaviors I was insistent on reinforcing. It’s hard to argue that a behavior doesn’t work when they see your leader modeling the way.
The Purpose: Learning–Do your employees have the training, tools, and resources they need to succeed?
The Approach: Lots of listening. Lots of questions.
- What do you need to really improve the customer experience?
- Is the new system making your job easier or harder? Why?
- What additional training do you need?
- What do you wish I knew about _______?
The Purpose: Building trusting relationships and increasing accountability.
The Approach: Reinforcing expectations and key behaviors. Paying attention to what’s really happening and the customer experience.
In Winning Well, we share an example an executive who, despite a culture of “Gotcha” in field visits went out on a commitment tour each year.
Bill is a retail store director who lived in a trust but verify culture. What this meant was that he and every executive above him were expected to constantly show up in stores to experience what was happening as customers would.
Is there a bird’s next over the the front entrance risking bird poop on the customer’s head? Are customers being served in a timely way? Did the store look inviting, with all light bulbs on and everything dusted and ready to go? Were the employees up to speed on the latest products and services?
There was no question. Knowing an executive could stop in at any moment kept everyone on their toes. The stores were undoubtedly cleaner and the customer service was better as a result.
Of course, these visits were always stressful. The general sentiment was “no such thing as a good visit”–the best you could hope for was “not a bad one.”
Which is why Bill came up with an idea to change the experience.
Every summer, instead of the usual pop-in store visits, Bill rented a van, wrapped it in the company logo and fun graphic and hit the road visiting all his stores.
The schedule was announced ahead of time, and there was one big rule: Employees would receive only positive feedback, celebration and fun.
If something was wrong, Bill would quietly call the manager’s attention to it. If it was a small thing like an unplugged sign, he would just plug it in and fix it himself while no one was looking.
These tours had a clear goal: To notice what was right. He did his homework and cane prepared with all kinds of recognition, along with a token of appreciation for every employee.
His operations manager came along and took tons of pictures of every visit. Every evening they created an upbeat collage that included the names of everyone recognized and why. The “postcard” was emailed to the entire region every evening.
The other store directors jokingly referered to the month as Bill’s “love tour,” but Bill was confident enough to withstand the razzing.
The truth is, the employees loved the love.
Results skyrocketed during that time. The employees wanted to be on top of their game when the tour stopped by their store, and, as you can imagine, there was not a birds nest in sight. Everything was dusted and ready to go, and the employees knew all about the latest products and services.
These planned visits caused everyone to go through their checklists and remember what a great experience looked like. this was so much more effecitve than a “gotcha ” pop-in visit.
Yes, Bill still had to show up unannounced at other time. Winning Well requires holding people accountable. But the love tour helped remind employees of what they were capable of doing and built commitment.
Another vital type of executive visit, which seems to be quite hard for some executives, is a curiosity tour. It can be tricky.
The Purpose: To set aside what you think you know and truly listen to employees and customers.
The Approach: Show up humbly and ask strategic open-ended questions. Talk to as many folks as you can in as many roles as possible. Talk to customers. Resist the urge to talk too much or to “sell” why their struggle isn’t real. Listen. Take notes. And really consider.
Every single time I’ve gone out on a curiosity tour, I learned something useful. When I work with clients I take this approach too. You wouldn’t believe how many times an executive will ask me, “How in the world did you figure out that was an issue?” and the answer is almost always the same.
You can too.
No matter what kind of executive visit your planning, if you can show up with true confident humility with a balanced focus on results and relationships, you will make a positive impact.
And sometimes the most important reason to head out is to show up human to build trust and connection.
The Purpose: To build relationships
The Approach: This works best when you appear to show up with no “agenda” but just eager to learn more about your team and let them learn more about you as human beings. Sometimes this can be done around a fun teambuilding event, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t forget to let them see a bit about who you are and why you do what you do.
My Fast Company Article on Listening: 7 Ways to Build a Culture of Listening