Jan 4, 2013
In business, as in life, New Years is the time to reflect on how we can take our personal and professional game to the next level. From my experience, the best leaders are consummate learners, always looking for ways to learn from others including their teams and their customers, as well as from their own successes and failures.
Here are a few resolutions I have found can help accelerate performance in the year ahead:
- Ensure You Have a Right-Side-Up Organization. Leaders work for their front-line employees. Front-line employees are the eyes and ears of your organization. Spend time each week talking to those who do the work by conducting skip level chats or simply walking around. Ask open-ended questions such as “what’s getting better than it was six months ago? What is not making the progress you had hoped, or is getting worse? What can we do to address the situation?” You will learn a lot, and your business will be better for it.
- Observe and Engage With Your Customers. Watch them using your product and observing how your product fits into their daily lives (versus in a lab). Talk to them and seek to have them help you see the world from their perspective. Involve them in any way you can, such as inviting them to participate in one of your leadership meetings or bringing them into your product development process. At the end of the day, they are the ones we all work for, including our front line employees, and are truly at the top of the right-side-up organization.
- Eat Your Own Dog Food – Use Your Product! It is a popular notion and sounds obvious, but many times leaders grow distant from their products or services. The most successful leaders I have observed invest 20-40 percent of their time each week in product reviews, using their products, or using competitive products. And yes, that includes CEO’s of large companies. So put yourself in your customers’ shoes and experience everything from shopping online or at a retail store, to calling customer service to resolve a problem. You’ll be amazed what you will learn.
- Challenge Ideas to Live in a Meritocracy. As Peter Drucker once said, “the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle.” Don’t let the highest paid opinions make all of the decisions. Empower employees at all levels to run fast, cheap experiments, and challenge them to bring that learning and the data into the discussion, allowing the best ideas to win out.
- Cast a Tall Shadow, Not a Dark Shadow. All leaders cast a shadow. The question is whether yours is blocking the sun, or inspiring others with its silhouette to strive for more. As a leader, we must all walk the talk. Leaders need to role model the behavior they want their organizations to emulate. The two greatest sources of casting a shadow are (1) how we spend our time and (2) the questions we ask. Organizations watch these cues to determine what is important, which takes me full circle to items 1-4 above!
- By Brad Smith [President & Chief Executive Officer, Intuit]