This is a time when the Grand Poobahs from headquarters head out to the provinces to find out what’s really going on and to inspire the troops. Most of the time, they fail on both counts.
I have been on both sides of this. I have been the branch manager when corporate visitors came calling. And I’ve been the Grand Poobah making those visits. Here’s what you should know if you’re heading out to the field.
You may think of yourself as the Grand Poobah, inspiring leader and friend of all. But out there in the field they probably think of you as The Idiot from Corporate.
Do not be misled. Do not listen to your headquarters courtiers. Unless you have spent a lot of time in the field with the troops and only good things have come of it, you are The Idiot from Corporate.
What you will see is not reality. The people in the branch will prepare for you like they do for a visit from the in-laws. The people you meet are likely to be chosen for their ability to parrot the corporate line and not say anything that will get their boss in trouble.
People are scared of you. If you’ve above them on the org chart, you have the power to affect their lives. When you do, the result is not likely to be good for them and will have no consequences for you. So they will tell you what they think you want to hear.
If you really want to find out what’s going on, or inspire the troops, or both, there are some things you can do. Here are some suggestions.
Go alone. The bigger your corporate party, the less likely anything good will come of your visit.
Stay awhile. The longer you stay, the less likely people are to remember that you are The Idiot from Corporate. Stay long enough and they may actually talk to you.
Have real conversations. Asking everyone in turn, “So how do you like working here?” is not likely to result in any insights, but is likely to prove to all that you really don’t care about them. Ask questions that real people ask when they meet someone for the first time. Then you might have a conversation that will include something important.
Do everything you can to minimize disruption. You don’t need to be met at the airport. You don’t need to go to a fine restaurant for lunch. If you can do so with good humor and to good effect, help out while you’re there.
Take notes. Thank people for sharing their insight. Later, tell them what you did with it.
There is hope. If you hang around a while and actually treat people like people, they may quit thinking of you as The Idiot from Corporate. And if you listen more than you talk, you just might learn something.