The CEO Flipping Burgers
Updated: Feb 9
Here is the crazy idea: all Executives and CEOs should spend one day every quarter as a front line employee. Whether it is flipping burgers at a chain restaurant or working as a sales clerk in a sport shop, this one day, would probably give them more insights than a McKinsey report. Here is why:
High level executives and CEOs are no longer on the front line. They are getting paid to make decisions. And they get paid well because their decisions ripple throughout the organization and have a big impact.
In order to decide and set directions, they are given aggregated data allowing them to see the overall company situation. What they do not see though, is the actual execution, how each task is performed.
They see that sales have decreased by 20% but do not know it is because the staff started to close the doors behind customers now that it is getting cold. They see that customer support satisfaction has gone down, but do not realize it is because of the poor call quality, after they changed to a cheaper phone operator.
Aggregates is good because it gives the big picture. But aggregates are limited because they do not show the details of the problem. This often pushes leaders to make binary decisions. To "stop" something or to "add" something. To discontinue a product, or to launch a new one. To change software vendor, removing one solution to add a different one. To fire somebody, or to hire somebody. It is either addition or subtraction, but rarely improving or fixing what there is.
Performance reports show them the "What it is". But by being detached from the execution, they become blind to the "Why it is". And the "why" is often subtle. Too subtle to be captured by a chart.
People on the front line however, have the opposite information. They see the details, the granular. They do not have the big picture but they understand better what is working and what is not. However, that information hardly makes its way to the top. Companies incentives are not designed to push employees to report problems (quite the contrary).
That is why, by having to perform the tasks first hand, executives can experience how their strategy at the top is translated at the bottom, down to the customers. Some leaders do pay some visits to teams on the ground, but the tour given to the CEO is often staged to showcase how well things are working. On the other hand, direct execution does not lie. It provides direct feedback.
Combining their high level perspective with some hands-on front-line experience could give leaders the full picture with valuable insights to improve their operations (while saving money buying less McKinsey reports).