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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Do Senior Management Really Know What’s Going On?

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

Do senior managers really know what’s going on in their companies?

The true customer experience or what their employees put up with, for example.

  • Do they ring their own call centres (if they can find the number) and listen to endless messages trying to get them to put the phone down and go to the company web site and then attempt to get their query answered?

  • Do they think it’s acceptable waiting minute after minute in the queue being told that ‘their call is important,’ listening to repetitive and annoying music?

  • And, if they have a problem that’s a bit more involved than usual, do they hold out any hope that their customer service agent has been trained to help?

  • Do they understand the frustration of their employees who, day-to-day, deal with the bureaucracy and rules that fill their time and drive down morale?

  • Do they see the amount of time spent in useless meetings – the endless plans and lack of any real and effective action?

If they do understand, why don’t they do something?

And if they don’t, can’t they leave their offices and find out what’s really going on?

There are a couple of truths that blot most corporate cultures – senior mangers are invariably told the good news, but rarely the true extent of what’s bad.

It can be dangerous.

History is littered with companies whose senior management failed to understand movements in the market around them – with devastating results. In ‘The Infinite Game,’ Simon Sinek discusses the prominent examples:

  • Kodak – who went out of business because their senior management believed that they were untouchable, having a monopoly on the production of camera film. No-one would ever look at their holiday photographs on a screen.

  • Nokia – whose senior management mocked the iPhone when it was released, saying no-one wanted to use a keyboard on a phone.

  • Blockbuster Video – whose senior management ‘failed to appreciate that small start-ups like Netflix and changes in technology would make their entire business model redundant.’

There was a story in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ recently.

It was about how, following the pandemic, Uber was struggling to meet demand as it couldn’t retain drivers.

The senior team decided to launch ‘Project Boomerang.’ This involved senior leaders working part time as Uber drivers.

Part of a campaign to better understand and improve the driver experience whose scarcity has caused a critical challenge for the company.

After 5-years running Uber, CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, got behind the wheel. Using the alias Dave K and a Tesla model that he purchased second hand, the CEO made dozens of trips ferrying passengers around the hills of San Francisco. That was an achievement in itself, as Khosrowshahi had difficulty signing up, describing the Uber technology as ‘clunky.’

  • One trip took him across the Bay bridge and he swore never to do that journey again having been stuck in rush hour traffic. He was subsequently ‘punished’ by the Uber algorithm for turning down jobs.

  • He dealt regularly with abusive customers.

  • He discovered the high level of discontent of drivers about ‘tip sharing’ arrangements.

Khosrowshahis experience, and that of his senior team, prompted them to reinvent the driver experience and start the biggest make-over of the business seen.

‘The industry has taken drivers for granted,’ said the CEO. ’We tackled every assumption we have ever made about how we treat drivers and the process they go through. We implemented difficult changes.’

(Uber now commands 74 percent of the USA ride share market – up from 64 per cent in 2020. Lift, their main rivals, has gone to 26 percent from 38 percent.)

In one of the most iconic business books ever, ‘In Search of Excellence,’ Tom Peters introduced the concept of Management by Wandering About (MBWA). But while most senior leaders have good intentions, most fail to follow Peter’s advice.

  • They spend their time strategising, planning and dealing with the latest crisis. And, clearly, there is a record amount of change going on they need to be driving.

  • But one thing is for sure – successful change will never be achieved without a realistic and honest assessment of the current state of play.

‘When you’re in a box in an office, you have to invent ways to leave the box.’ (Jeff Bezos).

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