You’ve probably seen the television show Undercover Boss where the CEO or owner takes on an entry level position in his or her company—and gets an education in what’s really going on. But you don’t really need to pretend to be someone you’re not to see your business from your employees’ point of view.

As an owner or CEO, you don’t want to end up with the Ivory Tower Syndrome where you believe all the assumptions you make must be true and you don’t check in with the people who are actually working on the front lines of the company.

In my first business, I started a company in a brand new industry. I was excited to hire employees who I considered “diamonds in the rough,” and help them develop. Later, I asked them about what they thought. Turns out when I thought I was telling them they were doing a great job, they thought I was just loading more work on them. A CEO needs to understand how they are perceived.

What’s Really Going On

Too many leaders work hard on developing mission statements and brands without really checking in to see whether these truly reflect how employees understand the company and how they operate. Enron is a classic example of this—if you looked at their marketing material, you’d never have any idea of what was really going on there.
When there’s disconnect between what the owner or CEO wants to believe is happening and what is really going, bad decisions and miscommunications follow.

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For long-term success, it is vital that business owners have an accurate picture of where they are today.

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Check In With Your Employees

To stay on top of what’s going on, you need to check in with your employees. How you do this depends on the size of your organization but you need to set up formal processes that allow you to communicate with employees and them to stay in touch with management. You also need to stay open to informal communications: sometimes the best conversation happens around a barbecue in someone’s backyard or between people talking at the end of a shift.
If you don’t design in spontaneous informal communication, you will stifle folks and miss a lot of what’s really going on.

Many times, I’ve been in meetings where a single aspect of a product or a service is up for debate, and later a front-line employee says they knew what the clients wanted all along.

Front-line employees don’t always say something because they aren’t encouraged to, but you get farther ahead of what’s coming if you talk with your front-line staff than if you do focus groups. Front-line staff know what your clients are saying, what they’re asking for, what’s missing and what trends are going on. That connection with staff is vital.

Employees Are Your Brand

Understanding your employees and effectively communicating with them will also create a stronger brand. Restaurant chain Chic-fil-A is a great example of building brand through effective employee communication. Employees are the voice of Chick-fil-A’s brand: they hire for attitude and teach the skills they need. They train staff in how to respond to customers according to their brand: when a customer thanks staff, Chick-fil-A staff respond, “It is our pleasure to serve you.”

I know it’s easy to sit on top and not think about how your decisions affect the employees at various levels, but using effective communication skills with your employees will create a stronger company culture and brand that will help you grow your business.