Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > back to the floor – the sequel

back to the floor – the sequel

I am a big fan of bosses going back to the floor and have written about here a few times, one of which, on my adventures in logistics, was picked up by Truck & Driver magazine. It is an opportunity that quite a few senior managers spurn entirely, and a in poll I conducted a couple of years ago around half of the responses were a resounding No, so why am I so in favour?

One crucial reason is that it allows you to see what life at the front end of your business is all about. Now there are those that will argue that you don’t need to know that, that you have layers of people along the way that can worry about those sorts of things for you, but knowing your business makes such a difference to the way that you operate. Those that truly walk the talk are, in my experience, the ones that have done the job and can still get in the trenches and pull their weight.

Steve Jobs at Apple has a superb story about the difference between a Vice President and a Janitor, the punch line of which is around the Janitor being able to give reasons why things aren’t done, but the VP has no such room for things not being right. I don’t know whether or not he has ever done the janitor’s job, but he understands the issue and, let it not be forgot, he was once on the front line himself.

My own enthusiasm came about gradually. My early efforts to climb the management ladder were with organisations that insisted on management trainees working in every department of the business to get a grasp of what they would eventually control. Later, as I got to run operations of various types there would sometimes be a need to solve a problem when all hands to the pump was the order of the day and so there were always opportunities to get involved.

As I got into more senior roles and began to devise and implement major improvement projects, being able to get in have a go at the job was often a powerful tool in firstly working out the right solution, but also in understanding how to implement the solution to best effect and to get my people behind the change. The other thing that back to the floor delivers is a clear understanding of what is really happening. As my pal Ian Berry puts it, are they walking in the halls what is says on the walls (is your mission statement really reflecting what goes on in the business)?

Often it isn’t, and that disconnect can destroy a business quicker than anything else. So in all of my senior roles I have committed time to working on the front line occasionally; I’ve driven fork lift trucks, vans and lorries, I’ve been out with the security team, spent time on reception, cleaned the toilets and more. All of that has helped overcome problems and make improvements that might well not have happened otherwise.

So it is with great pleasure that I’ve been reading of Lionel Prodgers’ experiences of going back to the front in FM World lately. Lionel is a top man in our industry; he’s done it all and has nothing to prove to anyone, so all credit to him for putting himself about to such good effect. I hope that others who read of his exploits are inspired to have a go themselves.

Pick a job and put a day in the diary; I’ll bet you enjoy it.

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  1. May 9, 2011 at 7:29 am

    You make a very valid point in this excellent post.

    Many senior managers are often clueless about life on the ground floor. Many managers are brought into a business from very different businesses too. Working with people on the ground floor should not be viewed as demeaning but rather as essential.

    Those workers too will value managers who show a willingness to understand the issues and problems and will enable better communications and trust.

    It is a win win situation when this practice is adopted.

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