Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > Knowing the other party

Knowing the other party

After my last blog I took some stick from a colleague over my using the term “Know your enemy” in the context of colleagues. In this PC world maybe they have a point, for the phrase as used more than forty years ago was one that we all, at the time, applied a different meaning to. So here I am going to change it to “Knowing the other party” which is more neutral. Last week I was talking about site visits in general and one that we had coming up in particular and I want to carry on that theme to consider things from both the view of the host and their visitor.

Hosting a visit can be a tense time which is why it is very useful to understand what your visitor, the other party, is going to be looking for (and why). In an ideal world you would never have to worry about a visit because you would have all you needed to do your job in the way that you are employed to do and you would know that you were going to be judged simply on whether or not you were doing what you are paid to do, but the reality is that we are dealing with people and people are all different. If you know what they are looking for you can deploy your resources to best effect to make sure that what they see is what they are looking for and, by default, they don’t see anything that will displease them.

People are motivated by all sorts of things and this will impact on their behaviour. At one stage of my career I was appointed as an area manager looking after a dozen sites each of which was run by a manager with more experience that I could boast. To ease me into place I was sent out with a colleague visiting four of his sites to get a feel for what was expected of me. My colleague made copious notes as we walked around, but gave little feedback to his host and this was the theme through the day. Once we were done he explained that he liked to heighten the effect of his visits by delaying feedback (a bit like the pregnant pause that TV shows like to inject into results; “and the correct answer/winner is…..). He also liked to make sure, he told me, that there was always something negative, usually aiming for at least three negative points at each site even if they were, at times, trivial and not relevant to any targets that the site team had to meet.

That approach seemed ridiculous to me and I didn’t work that way. On my site visits I fed back to the manager as we went around and made a point of speaking to them and their direct reports before I left, but by the end of the first month I found myself in trouble with my boss. Where were my lists of issues? It soon became apparent that he was out of his depth in his job and needed these lists of problems, and their apparent resolution, to justify to his boss that he was doing something to earn his crust. I was gone soon afterwards, unable to work in that sort of environment and whenever I have been in a role since where I have had to carry out site visits I have stuck to my guns; feedback there and then and always aimed at simply helping the site team do better.

One of the more extreme examples of delayed feedback that I have come across was when the manager of the building where my serviced office was based asked me for help. Her manager had been round on an inspection and had given her, by email the day after the visit, a list of things to deal with and one of these she wanted my advice on. Her question was easily dealt with, but on the list that she showed me were two entries about fire exits being obstructed, partially ion one case and wholly in the other. I got her to show me, they were as described and so we cleared them. Later that day a notice was issued to all of the tenants reminding them not to block fire escape routes. My issue though was with her boss: Why, having seen such a problem, did he not deal with it on the spot and note in his report what he had found? To leave two exits obstructed and simply put it into a report that was issued 24 hours later! In any of my teams to see a problem like that and not deal with it would be a disciplinary matter unless they could come up with a reasonable explanation. No, I can’t think of one in the circumstances here, but knowing the other person and understanding what is driving them might give some clues as to why they failed.

Walking the site should be about improving. It is not about scoring points, making yourself look good, making someone else look silly or justifying your job, it’s just about making sure that things are as they should be and looking for ways to work smarter. If you need to speak to a member of the team about something then do it there and then, but if it needs doing now and there is no-one else around then do it yourself. If you are the big cheese come to walk the site and people see that you are prepared to get stuck in then your stock will rise. They will know you as someone who leads by example and I would much rather that they felt like that about me that seeing me as a corporate seagull.

 

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