Ever since Undercover Boss debuted on CBS in 2010, I've made it a point to catch as many episodes as I can. It's a great show, highlighting the inner workings of businesses like Kampgrounds of America, Cinnabon, Yankee Candle, and more. One that really stuck with me was the premiere episode featuring Larry O'Donnell, CEO of Waste Management. Waste Management is a well-known company, and O'Donnell didn't seem like that bad of a guy - but he couldn't keep up with the rules or job, and was quickly fired.
As the episode ended, we watched O'Donnell change the rules that caused him so much grief, and employees loved the changes. But it shouldn't have taken a call from CBS for O'Donnell to realize the rules needed to be adjusted. It's a lesson for all business leaders to take to heart - focus on the good of your company from the bottom up, or prepare to learn in a very public way just how out of touch you are.
As leaders of companies, we mustn't forget our journey to the top. I've said it before and I'll say it again: once the elevator you're in reaches the top, you have to send it back down for the next person. If there's a task or job in your company that you're not willing to do, from cleaning the bathroom to ordering supplies to taking a hard-to-please client out to dinner - why would your team want to do it? Nothing in your company should be beneath you, because you are responsible for your entire company.
How do you stay grounded? I stay grounded by 'cleaning the bathroom,' no matter where I am. I also follow these tenets:
I send my own emails, texts, and social media posts - always. I write my own thank you notes, make my own personal phone calls, and tell all of my 15,000+ LinkedIn connections 'happy birthday' on their special day. I do it - I don't farm it out to people. It allows me to stay in touch with my friends, family, connections, fans, and audience.
Immerse and Attack
I've been at the helm of a number of companies where something didn't feel right, or something wasn't working just right. Rather than hire an outside consultant or ask a direct report to figure out the issue, I got to the bottom of it myself - literally. My businesses deal directly with customers, and if something isn't working, it means we are losing money. So I put myself in the customers' shoes and go through the whole buying process -- from searching on Google, to calling customer support, to returning the item. I think it's necessary for me to experience every step to determine what the challenges are and how to fix the broken link and where opportunities exist.
Stay Visible and Get "Out There"
If you have a cushy office, get out of it. If you have a secluded section of the warehouse, step out of it. If you work from home, go visit your team members. Whatever you do, be visible and accessible. Know every single person in your company - from the cleaning person, to who delivers lunch. It reinforces trust amongst those working for you, creates loyalty with those who service your business, and puts you in the face of any potential problems that might arise.
In business, you can't afford to lose perspective; otherwise, you could face the same issues that Chip Wilson experienced with Lululemon. After making an arguably offensive remark on Bloomberg Television, his career unraveled. That one remark showed just how out of touch Wilson was with his business and customers. Business moves at breakneck speed sometimes, but in spite of that, one must slow down, and remember this one key lesson: everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, from the CEO to the mailroom guy. Keep your perspective!