If you ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you understand how important it is to return to the trenches in business. The premise of the show is that the CEO of a major corporation disguises himself/herself as a job candidate and returns to the field to do various jobs within the company to learn firsthand what’s really going on. In one respect, the CEO discovers how great the people are, how hard they work, and the challenges they face in their daily lives—but that same CEO also gains a new perspective on all the little things that aren’t working well in the company.
While the CEO could go into the field as the top manager and ask people direct questions about what’s working and what’s not, it wouldn’t be as effective as going undercover. The employees would view him or her as the CEO and respond in a totally different way than if he or she was “one of them.” The employees would, more than likely, tell the CEO what he or she wants to hear. They wouldn’t be totally honest. They would leave out information, because they would make the judgment that the CEO doesn’t “need to know.” To really learn what’s happening in the business, the CEO must experience the good and the bad within the business.
A factory worker probably believes that the CEO has important work to do and shouldn’t be spending time on the assembly line. This same factory worker might perceive his or her position as trivial to the CEO.
It’s different for sales people. Why? Sales people expect the CEO to understand their role, including its daily challenges. After all, sales people create growth for the company. If the CEO doesn’t know or understand what the sales force is facing, how can he or she check to see if the team can execute to the vision for the company?
CEOs of medium-sized businesses ($25-$250 million) have generally shifted their role from producing (sales) for the business to strategy and operations. As a result, they lose the respect of their sales force. Since they are not producing, they are not viewed as needed in the business. The sales people start to believe that they know the business better. So they either go off on their own by leaving the business or stay and begin hoarding account relationships and ignoring company directives and strategy.
If you’re a president or CEO who finds himself or herself not producing and justifying this behavior by thinking that your role should be more strategic, are you doing this to avoid selling or do you genuinely believe that producing business is no longer your role?
Are you losing control of your sales force and your company as a result?
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