Walk the Four Corners
One of the simplest ways to build trust is to interact with everyone in your organization—not just your direct reports, but the front-line people as well as those at the bottom of the organization chart. Because these valuable employees work day-in and day-out on the front line, they probably have answers to just about any problem that arises in or about your business. They likely think of opportunities that you may not have considered. The problem, however, is that they usually won’t tell you what they know unless you ask.
So, ask. Every day, get out of your office and spend at least twenty minutes walking the four corners (W4C). Stop and chat with one person, two at most, and ask open-ended questions: What do you see that I may not see? How can we make this better for our customers? How can we improve productivity in this area? How can we grow faster? Then stand back and listen.
When in Doubt, Ask for Input
All too often, we don’t ask for input. Or worse, we assume the people on the lower rungs of the company don’t use their brains.
Don’t forget to include your customers and suppliers via a virtual walk around the four corners. They’ll tell you more about your business than you ever dreamed.
And like Jack Welch, who visited a manufacturing facility far from his corporate office, don’t overlook employees at remote offices or facilities. Schedule periodic calls, visits, and virtual meetings to get their input as well. Often, employees in the field, who are far from corporate discussions and planning, see what others can’t or don’t.
Intel founder and chief executive Andy Grove made it a habit to regularly phone the salespeople farthest from the corporate headquarters to chat. “The snow always melts first on the edges,” Grove said in explaining this practice.
As these examples of two top executives show, walking the four corners—both physically and remotely—can be your best tool for gathering business intelligence of all kinds and for staying in touch with parts of your business that are often unseen or overlooked.
Snapper Lawn Mower had been losing money for eighteen successive months when Kraig Kramers assumed the top spot. During his first week on the job, he walked the four corners, asking, “How do we get this turned around, wound up, and going again?”
To Kramers’ delight, employees shared their insights on how to crank it up and start making money again. Forty-five days later, the company had its first profitable month and was on its way to a profitable future.
The company’s employees knew what needed to be done and wanted to be a part of it. All that was missing was someone to ask them, listen to them, and then coordinate the effort to implement the changes they suggested.