A sense of awkwardness best described how we each felt. I sensed Corrin felt awkward hosting the CEO in her 10 by 10 foot cubicle- for an entire day! And I felt awkward sitting next to her, wondering if I was wasting precious time with feeble efforts to compel others to embrace my Vision. The practice of dedicating several hours a day to immerse myself with front-line workers was still somewhat new to me. I often thought I had more important things to do than help her process a few of the hundreds of customer orders we installed every day.
“Well, I could complete more customer orders if I didn’t have to enter the same information twice,” Corrin nervously offered; her facial expression still conveyed bewilderment. I perked up. “Help me understand your challenge,” I pressed.
She proceeded to walk me through the multiple tasks she completed in order to activate a new customer on our fiber network. And she was right! Both our customer records and billing systems required that she enter the same basic customer information twice, toggling between two different computer screens.
“Wow- the time you would save and the risk of fat-finger errors you would avoid would dramatically change how you spend your day” I verbalized, realizing this dual-data-entry task was bogging down hundreds of others, who shared Corrin’s job. Making my realization more profound, I was asking these employees, like Corrin, to live out our Vision and “lead our industry in providing quality, user-friendly service.” I asked myself how sincere that Vision appears to workers like Corrin who were bogged down with ridiculous double entry tasks.
Corrin simply smiled and nodded her head in agreement. And I suspect she was also asking herself- “now what’s he going to do?”
Well, that part was easy. I immediately pulled together our CIO and COO, demanding that we do something to get these two systems to talk to each other and share the same customer data. While this took a number of weeks and required significant systems modifications, we rolled out the upgrade across all eleven states and 30 plus offices.
Years later Corrin and her team would continue to talk about the systems upgrade they helped architect. And I would refer to that seemingly minor suggestion from Corrin to avoid “entering the same information twice” as a ‘golden nugget.’ That term conveyed the precious value of these moments, when our front line workers took tangible steps to drive change across the organization in order to advance our Vision. As a leader I learned there is nothing more powerful.
These moments profoundly drove our company culture for two reasons. First they allowed our front line workers, like Corrin and her team in Salt Lake City, to feel like they can truly make a difference. They were the architects of a system change that altered the way we did business across eleven states. Second, those moments communicated to my c-suite colleagues the value of investing time in our front line workers, those who were closest to our customers and who truly knew the strengths and weaknesses in our business model.
Mining for these ‘golden nuggets’ became a regular part of my duties as CEO. I would travel to our field offices, meeting with front line employees and asking them “how can we make our business model more successful?” Of course, many suggestions I received might have already been considered or may not be feasible. However, it was surprising how often really fantastic ideas came forward. It became infectious and the practice of mining for ‘golden nuggets’ was adopted by many across our team.
Together we built one of the 10 largest fiber based telecommunications companies in the United States, Integra Telecom. Integra was regularly recognized as one of the 10 Most Admired Companies by other CEOs in our home state and was described by Xchange Magazine as “A Study In The High-Touch Approach” to serving business customers.
Connecting ‘front-line’ workers, like Corrin, to the organization’s Vision is a critical step in building a high functioning organizational culture of motivated, engaged workers. The technique of walking the floor and investing time with these front-line workers is but one of the many behavioral tools Fusion Leaders employ in the process of “fusing” teams together around a shared Vision.
Yes- leaders own and communicate the Vision; however, an organization’s front-line workers are the only people who can execute on a Vision and make that Vision part of the fabric of an organization. Looking back, there was not an investor meeting, a board meeting or another c-level meeting that was more important on that day in Salt Lake City. Corrin, my unsuspecting teacher, taught me everything I needed to learn that day about effective leadership and how to identify tools that help compel others to manifest our Vision.