October 29, 2022

The Value of Bosses Walking in their Employees' Shoes

While dining at a restaurant, my father always expressed his appreciation when the owner walked around the dining establishment. Not only does "walking the floor" provide owners with the opportunity to connect with customers, doing so allowed them to understand what their employees were experiencing in real time. But an owner who delivered food from the kitchen, refilled water glasses or helped clean the table for the next customer truly impressed my father. An article by The Economist focuses on how bosses can understand what life is like for the staff. "Walking in employees' shoes is a way for bosses to understand what impedes productivity, what saps morale and what makes workers feel valued," the article notes.

One way of obtaining the employees' views on what is life is like working at the company is through surveys. However, as the article points out, "Even if a boss genuinely wants to hear the unvarnished truth, employees may not be comfortable delivering it. Anonymous surveys can help encourage honesty, as can exit interviews, but even in these settings, workers may temper their views." What is more, "Reviews on sites like Glassdoor can be brutal, but the motives of the people posting them are not always transparent. Corporate-messaging apps like Slack can provide a partial window into how some teams are getting on, but surveillance is not a form of empathy. And none of this is the same as knowing what it is actually like to be an employee."

I agree that "it is good for managers to spend time doing the same work as their" employees. The article also explains that "Airlines and retailers have run schemes that involve executives working in front-line roles in airports and on shop floors. DoorDash, a delivery app, has a program called WeDash that requires salaried employees to make regular drop-offs. And bosses can do things for themselves that people without assistants must navigate alone. Filling out expense forms is a chore: everyone should have to do their own, at least occasionally. By default bosses should fly in the same airline class as their colleagues do. And so on."

But, the article importantly concludes that it is equally important for employees to understand what a manger experiences: "If managers can learn a few things by walking in employees' shoes, there is also value in workers thinking about what life is like as a boss. It is not all business-class travel and people agreeing with you. Imagine getting in a lift and conversation around you always dying. Imagine being grumbled about all the time, or knowing that your absence causes a general lightening of the mood. Imagine not being able to kick a difficult decision upstairs. The boss wears much nicer shoes but they can still pinch."

What are your recommendations for how managers can gain the employees' perspective, which in turn could improve morale and improve productivity?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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