Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

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.

4 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.

Clarity

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.

Capacity

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 _______?

Commitment

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.

Curiosity

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.

I asked.

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.

Related Thoughts

Town Hall Meetings: 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Leadership Message

My Fast Company Article on Listening: 7 Ways to Build a Culture of Listening

5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

 

how to mbwa without getting in the way

How to MBWA Without Getting in the Way

My phone rang, “Karin, she’s here …”

“Crud, just what we needed today! Bad MBWA. Aghhh. You know the drill, warn the others. I’ll let John (my boss) know.”

John picked up the phone, “Okay, is your team ready? Remember there’s no such thing as a good executive visit with her, let’s just keep it from being a bad one. We don’t need the team distracted, we’ve got important work to do. We don’t need any more fire drills.”

“We should really let her know that her visits are backfiring,” I said, trying to solve this problem once and for all. I was a big fan of “no diaper genie,” even back then, “No way,” John warned. “She won’t hear you, and you’ll just get on her bad side.”

And so we did our best to protect the team, tell her what she wanted to hear and prayed that she got back on the private jet to headquarters as quickly as possible.

I’m sure her intentions were good—get out in the field, stay close to the people serving our customers, inspect what you expect, be visible… but her reactionary nature and sarcastic communication style left a destructive wake of frustration, low morale, and petty clean up that distracted the team from their MITs (Most Important Things).

When MBWA (management by walking around),  becomes OCHTC “Oh crap here they come” you’re better off staying in the office.

Seven Ways to Add Value During Your MBWA Skip Level Visits

Once I became an executive, I understood why these MBWA visits can be so hard. In any large team, there’s a 100% probability that someone is doing or saying something stupid at any minute, and tripping over that is enough to distract you from the real reason you’re there. Heading into your visits with a solid game plan will ensure your visits leave a positive impact on results and relationships.

  1. Be clear on your most important message.
    I’ve seen so many executives leave their teams with 37 action items after their visit. The team then runs around fixing things and checking them off to report back, but don’t really learn or refocus their efforts for long-term change. It’s far more impactful to pick a few key priorities and focus your messaging. Connect what you’re asking them to do and why. Plan your key messages in advance and ensure they are the focal point of your visit.
  2. Ask your middle managers how you can be most helpful.
    Your managers are working hard to keep their teams focused. Ask them how you can help reinforce their priorities. Be as helpful as possible to reinforce their influence and credibility. If they’re not focused on what you care about, WAY better to deal with that directly than to react at the front line.

  3. Talk behaviors, not numbers.
    As executives, we spend lots of time looking at numbers and trends. We get impatient for results to improve. A common practice is to leave the team with a numerical challenge, “Improve by 10% by the time I come back,” which can be inspiring … but works much better when you focus on the one or two behaviors that will help them get there, and help them find a way to measure that.
  4. Celebrate what’s working.
    You get more of what you celebrate and encourage. Look for what’s working and point it out. Thank them. Make a big deal of the good behaviors (not just the outcomes) so that everyone around notices you noticing.
  5. Ask great questions.
    If you want to know what’s really going on ask open-ended questions and really listen to the answers. What’s frustrating our customers? What is the most difficult part of your day? How is this new system making your job easier? How is it making it more difficult? Why is this metric so hard to move?
  6. Catalyze the sharing of practices.
    If you’re out and about, chances are you are seeing people in other offices or locations with some great best practices. Leverage this for some cross-pollination. “You know who’s doing this well, Laura in Poughkeepsie. You should give her a call. Tell her I sent you.”
  7. Follow up.
    Find one or two ways to be helpful and follow-up. “Here’s the additional funding you need.” “I talked to IT about that fix you were needing and they’ll have it done by next week.”

Your Turn

What would you add?  What are your best practices for more meaningful MBWA?

5 ways leaders screw up management by walking around

Five Ways Managers Screw Up Management By Walking Around

No matter what level leader you are, if you want to really make an impact on your team, get out of your office. Walk around. Connect with the human beings you’re supporting, and their customers. Listen to them. Act on what you hear. Explain the “why” behind “what” you’re asking them to do. Ask deeper questions and listen even harder. Thank them for their input. Recognize their efforts. Management by walking around is a powerful tool.

Do even half of this every single week and your influence and results are bound to improve.

And yet, if you get out of your office, and stir things up, without a sincere “How can I best help?” and “What must I learn?” approach, you’re likely to make things worse for your employees, your business, and your customers.

If you overreact, under-support, or act like you’re above the day-to-day BS that’s driving them crazy, you’ll jeopardize your credibility and influence, not to mention the results you’re looking to achieve.

Five Ways Managers Screw Up Management By Walking Around

Be careful that Management by walking around (MBWA)doesn’t become OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come)

1. Over-reacting to a Single Incident

One employee in one office is screwing up your new program, or can’t explain your new product, and you conclude that “no one gets it,” and frantically start gathering all your National leaders together to fix this “Big Problem,” which might actually be just one dude with his head in the sand.  And you know what everyone else is thinking, including your National leaders who are scrambling to fix the “Big Problem?”

“Seriously, if s/he wants to work on something BIG, let’s me show him the real fish we have to fry.” But of course, they don’t say that.

That would be defensive, and they’re not stupid. So they diaper drama  the conversation and do exactly what they’re told. And save the real conversation for another time.

If you’re lucky.

2. The “Gotcha” Game

With the wrong tone and an imbalanced lens, all those “helpful pointers” feel more like “gotcha.” It’s great to point out what can be done better, along with stories and sharing of best practices, but be sure you’re also looking for the good news. I’ve seen many execs come through sweating all the small stuff that was “wrong” and completely overlooking the huge accomplishments of the team. Sure, they MAY remember to throw away the pizza box in the break room next time, but they’ll certainly remember that you didn’t even mention their significant sales wins. In some cultures the word on the street is that you “Can’t ever have a good executive visit, the best you can do is not have a bad visit.” Trust me, if that’s the case, you’ll get better long-term results by staying in your office.

3. The Drive-By

You come in long enough to make an appearance, but don’t spend time making any real connection. Such drive-bys feel like you’re checking off a to-do. Equally destructive is showing up, and heading to a nearby office to close the door and take calls. Wandering around takes time.

4. The High-Maintenance Prep

In anticipation, the team runs around making everything just right. Even if you think you’re low maintenance, watch what your local team is doing to prepare. It sends a terrible message to the frontline when local management starts scurrying to “clean up the place” or order special food in advance of your visit. A clean work environment is important for the employees every day, not for the execs. I once had a Director apologize to me that he had not “had the rugs replaced in advance of my visit.” They were filthy and needed replacing, but not for me.

5. The Talking Tour

Management by walking around is about listening and learning. Sure it’s great to reinforce priorities, but be sure you’re really taking the time to listen to ideas and concerns and to ask what you can do to be most helpful. Listen well, take great notes, follow-up with the person who shared their idea.

A MBWA  (Management By Walking Around) Secret Weapon

When I was a call center Director, I worked for a Senior VP who was strong, tough and introverted. Wandering around did not come naturally for her. But, she was a good leader who deeply understood the value and made it a point to spend quality time in the centers. So the morning before her visit, we went to each rep’s desk and color-coded their cubes with helium balloons all representing something they had accomplished:  yellow was perfect attendance, red meant they had attained a degree or certification that year, white symbolized they were exceeding goals, etc. We even threw in a few personal ones, like having a baby. That way as she wandered around she had instant conversation starters. Her congratulatory remarks flowed easily into how they were accomplishing their work and where they needed the most help. Plus, the visit felt like an uplifting celebration of the team, not of making things just right for her.

Management by walking around is powerful and important. Done well, it makes all the difference in the world. Take the time to do it right.

Managing Your Boss: Get the Support You Need in 10 Minutes a Week (Includes Free Tool)

When’s the last time you had a really great one-on-one with your boss? If your answer is anything but “in the last 2 weeks,” you’re not alone. A great cadence of good one-on-one meetings is unusual. Why? Well first,  everybody’s busy. It’s easier to cancel a meeting with a direct report than with your boss. Or perhaps, your one-on-ones drag on, lack preparation, or generally feel like a waste of time.

Whether you’re the manager, the one being managed, or both, one the easiest ways to take your performance to the next level is through great one-on-one meetings.

How to Hold a 10 Minute (MIT- Most Important Thing) Huddle

Of course, you need more than 10 minutes a week to build a great relationship with your manager. You need time to get to know one another as human beings and to focus on long-term goals and career development. What I’m about to share here is not a substitute for those vital sessions. This tool is for the in-between times: to help you stay focused each week to clarify expectations, to ensure the MIT stays the MIT, and to get the support you need.

It works like this. You schedule 10 minutes a week with your boss and come prepared to discuss the following:

  • What’s the Most Important Thing you accomplished last week? (This gives you an opportunity to ensure you boss is aware of the good work you are doing)
  • What’s the Most Important Thing you’re working on this week? (This helps clarify expectations and ensure alignment)
  • What support do you need? This gives you a structured time to ask for help AND also makes it easier on your boss if you keep a running list of anything that’s not urgent and can wait.

Our Winning Well clients who are using this approach tell us it’s done wonders to streamline their communications, clarify expectations, and eliminate wasteful work.

You can download the free MIT Huddle Planner here

The 7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

Skip level meetings always seem like a good idea at the time.  A little MBWA (management by walking around) never hurt anyone. Or did it?

Done well, skip level meetings are a remarkable tool in your Winning Well toolkit. Skip level meetings help you connect “what to why,” reinforce the MIT (most important thing), help you build genuine relationships, give you a chance to ask strategic questions to learn what’s really going on, and most importantly, to build genuine relationships.

Maybe that’s why after over 700 blog posts, the most read is 5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings. In fact, there are some days that this post from 2014 has more hits than whatever new is going on. And how we manage the skip level communication, is always top of mind with my consulting clients.

Why the intrigue?

Because done poorly MBWA becomes OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come). If your skip level meetings are backfiring, or if you have a boss who could get better at this and you want to help them out, be sure to avoid these 7 traps.

7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

  1. Not Doing Your Homework
    Sure you’re their bosses boss. They should be glad you’re there, right? Hmmm…Want to ensure you make an impact? Learn what’s up with the people in the room. Get their names. Know what’s driving them crazy. Be able to speak articulately about a few of their biggest accomplishments.
  2. Showing Up Needy
    Yes, I get it. You’re sandwiching this skip level in-between really important calls with C-level execs, vital customers, your boss… Go minimalist here. What do you need? A closed-door in-between your skip-level meetings? Ask for that. Otherwise show up as low-maintenance as you can (and ensure your assistant gets this too.)
  3. Sticking To Your Agenda
    The real magic of skip-level meetings is never planned. Even if your team gave you a carefully crafted list of conversation starters, stay real and open to where the conversation may lead.
  4. Talking Too Much
    Resist the urge. You will learn way more by listening.
  5. Asking the Wrong Questions
    So often I see leaders ask leading questions that ensure they get told what they want to hear. You already know what you think. Have the courage to ask the questions that might surface answers that frustrate you. It’s better to know what people are really thinking.
  6. Failing to Recognize Contributions
    Your people want to know that you know what they’re up to. Be sure you do and tell them.
  7. Neglecting to Follow Through
    If you promise to look into something, be sure you do. If you promise to get something fixed right away, do it. And just as importantly, be sure you close the loop and let them know. Making commitments without follow-through does more harm than not showing up at all.

Great leaders spend lots of time talking to the people closest to the customer. It’s worth the extra effort to dig deep and do it right.

What Your Team Is Saying Behind Your Back

Have you ever talked about your boss behind your back? If you haven’t complained to at least someone…you’re a saint. Call me. I’m sure you’ve got some wisdom we can share here at LGL.

For the rest of us… you know… right? Just like you’re complaining about that boss who (you might even like a lot of the time) has behaviors you wish they would improve–SOON.  And chances are you haven’t told them.

Here’s the real deal. No matter how wonderful you are, I guarantee you, your team is talking about you (in some way that would surprise you) too.

How do I know this? Well, in addition to all the barrage of stories I hear from the companies I work with, the classroom full of MBA students who attended my Managing Difficult People elective all have one thing in common. Despite the advertised name of the class, guess who 100% are there to talk about? Yup. You guessed it. The inapproachable “jerk” who is their boss. As we dig in, he’s never that bad. #justsaying #letmehelp

That’s the spirit behind Winning Well. No one leads in a soul sucking way on purpose.  David Dye and I are on a mission to help you (and your bosses and your direct reports) lead better.

Sure it’s hard. You and your bosses are sandwiched between all kinds of competing priorities. And it’s tricky to think about how to do it right.

But it can also be made much easier by learning some extremely practical tools and techniques (this is a 2 minute video).

I promise you. A little bit of quality leadership development is worth the investment.

If you haven’t downloaded a FREE chapter of Winning Well, accessed the free toolkit, or taken the free online assessment, click here to get started. 

If you just want to talk for an hour (my dime) about why you’re a Winning Well leader or areas you’re looking to improve please contact my awesome assistant, Beth at beth@letsgrowleaders.com and she will get something scheduled.

I know we can help. And we have a wide range of solutions for every budget, including our newly released Winning Well online course.

one secret to managing up

The Best Secret To Managing Up (With Video)

Have you ever been in a scene like this? Your team is working hard. Results are solid. But nobody seems to notice. Or worse, any skip level visits turn out so poorly, you begin to dread the very thought of a well-intentioned executive stopping by to talk with your team. How do you teach your team to get better at managing up?

An important part of Winning Well is helping your team showcase their results.

Here’s one of my favorite approach, I learned from Pete, one of my best District Managers in my role as a Verizon executive.

Even frontline teams need to learn executive presence.

Executive Presence Simplified

At Verizon, executives spend lots of time in the field observing and talking to teams— mostly unannounced. It’s a great way to stay close to the business.

They look for knowledge, service, culture, and execution.

One of my teams was notorious for “bad visits.” Until almost overnight the visits got better. Results improved. Reputations were saved.

I took Pete, the district manager to lunch. “Every visit’s been great! What changed?” He smiled, ‘it’s the green jacket effect.”

“I’ve been practicing with the team. We have all the store managers take turns visiting one another’s stores wearing a really ugly green jacket. The jacket triggers a simulation of an executive visit. Whoever is wearing the green jacket is to be treated like the executive visitor. We practice controlling the story. Practice helps. They are less nervous. They can now explain their results, articulate their action plans, and recognize their best performers. It’s an elevator speech on steroids.”

Tips for a Great Green Jacket Experience

  • Greet them proactively with a firm handshake (demonstrate that you’re glad they came)
  • Proactively explain your numbers and the reasons behind them
  • Start with your opportunities and articulate key actions
  • Share your creative approaches to implementing key initiatives
  • Introduce them to other employees, and share something unique each person is doing
  • Recognize a few people for their “wow” contributions
  • Talk about your challenges and how they can help
  • Share ideas for improved processes and how you are pursuing them
  • Take active notes on all suggestions
  • Send a thank you email summarizing all follow-up items

 

4 Reasons Your Feedback is Being Ignored

The number one frustration I hear from team leaders is that their feedback falls on deaf ears. The employee seems to get it–for a minute, and then they go right back to their old habits.

So they give the same feedback again, this time “louder” either literally, or through progressive discipline, or sadly sometimes threats or biting sarcasm.

Sure, there are some folks out there “you just can’t fix,” but frequently that’s not the real issue.

4 Reasobuilderns Your Feedback is Being Ignored

When I turn the tables and ask the employees why the behavior continues, here’s what they tell me.

  1. The Feedback Flood Factor
    “I’m trying to do better, I really am. But it’s all just too much. Every time we meet, he’s giving me something else to work on. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get it right, so I’ve learned to just block him out and do the best I can.” If you want real change, isolate one behavior at a time.
  2. The “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Factor
    “My boss keeps telling me my customer courtesy credits are too high– that I’m costing the business too much money. So I really worked on that for a while. But then, I found my customers started to ask to speak to my supervisor. And guess, what? She always gave them the credit! She looks like the hero, and the credit she gives them goes against my numbers and I still end up on progressive action.” If you want your employees to hear your feedback, be sure you’re following your own standards. If there are reasons you make exceptions, be sure you clearly differentiate and explain the thought process, so they can follow consistent parameters.
  3. The “I Don’t Know How” Factor
    “My manager says I need to be more strategic. That sounds awesome. I’m all for that. But what does that mean? How do I do that?” Be sure your feedback is specific and actionable. Explain what success looks like in terms of specific behaviors.
  4. The “I Disagree” Factor
    “My supervisor keeps asking me to do this, but I just don’t think it’s right. It’s going to have a negative impact on MY customers. I’ve tried to explain my concerns, but she just keeps citing policy, and that this decision is ‘above my pay grade.’ ” Sure, we all have to implement policies we may not agree with, the important factor here is to really listen to the concerns and explain why. Just shutting down the conversation MAY lead to compliance, but not always. And it certainly won’t lead to commitment.

Most employees want to do a good job. If your feedback is being ignored, dig deeper to get to root cause.

secret to great skip level meetings

5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings

Done well, skip level meetings can inspire, engage, motivate and inform the skipper, skipee, and even the skipped. On the other hand, poorly run skip level meetings inadvertently bring on diaper genie feedback and diminish trust.

In my latest role, most of my skip level meetings were even more tricky because I was skipping across many layers or holding focus groups in other companies for which I was the client. There was the added fear that the reps would tell me something that their boss’s, boss’s, boss didn’t want me to know. And yet, I wanted to know it, so we could help. Tricky.

How to Hold Great Skip Level Meetings

  1. Prepare – It’s arrogant to go into a skip level meeting without doing your homework. Understand what the team is doing really well and know what concerns to anticipate. Know something about the people attending, have a few specifics to recognize. Bringing along a note taker enables you to fully engage in a dynamic conversation, but don’t overwhelm the room with extra spectators.
  2. Make it Personal – I always start skip level meetings the same way. I invite participants to share their name, and “what makes them a ROCK STAR in their current job.” People like to share what they’re good at, and it’s beautiful to see what matters most to them.
  3. Relate Through Stories – Skip level meetings are not only a great way to find out what’s on people’s minds, but they are also a great way to reinforce key messages through strategic storytelling. Share your stories, and invite them to share their stories then summarize the themes. For example, “tell me a story of when you turned around a really frustrated customer.” Or, “do you have a story of your team leader was most helpful to you?”
  4. Ask Positively Framed Open-Ended Questions – Framing your questions in a positive light makes it more comfortable for employees to share ideas for improvement.
       •  What’s the best part of working here?
       •  How do you know how you’re doing? In which areas would you like more feedback?
       •  If you were in my shoes and could change one thing to make your work easier, what would that be?
       •  What could we do to improve the customer experience?
       •  Which of your tools/resources do you find most helpful? Why?
       •  If you could invent a tool or resource to help you do your job, what would it be, and how would you use it?
       •  What does your team leader do that’s most helpful to you?
       •  If you were the team leader, what would you focus on (or do more of) and why?
       •  What additional support or resources do you need?
       •  What questions haven’t I asked that you wish I would?
       •  What questions can I answer for you?
  5. Follow-up – Share a summary of your notes and key take-aways with the group. When giving readouts to others, including the “skipped” leaders, be curious, not accusatory. Remember there’s always many interpretations of every story.

Are you looking to achieve better business results through stronger employee engagement and commitment? I can help. Please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.