The higher up that you progress on the corporate ladder, the more insulated you become from your business – and, by association, your customers.
Sometimes keeping close to the coalface is better than getting a key to the executive washroom. Let me explain.
You’re Losing Touch With Your Customers
Every executive believes promotion gets them closer to their goals. But maybe – just maybe – those goals aren’t the ones you imagined
Most C-Suite executives may have a passing understanding of what happens at ground level. But after a while, all those meetings, corporate lunches and golf club meetings take their toll.
After a short time, the peers you had when you were cutting your teeth on the corporate merry-go-round see you as “one of them” rather than “one of us”. You’re no longer to be trusted with certain gossip, information, or insight.
And that’s exactly when the rot sets in.
Now you’re in the executive club, you’re playing a different game. By the time you make it to the upper echelons, you’re almost encased in a corporate-created bubble. You’re in a cage – even if it’s a gilded one.
How do you know if you’re in a gilded cage?
- Your calls and letters are screened.
- You only accept meeting invitations from senior management.
- Only outsiders with pre-approved appointments make it into your inner sanctum.
- You have lunch with the same people and socialize with the same group of friends.
The flip-side to getting the key to the executive bathroom is that you lose touch.
A Gilded Cage Is Still A Cage
The problem with business today isn’t that there’s too much information, or even too many meetings. It’s there’s too much insulation.
When’s the last time you picked up the phone and called one of your distributors, resellers, or (heaven forbid) customers? What would happen if you went and visited an end-user of your product or service?
What would you learn from them, first hand, that you wouldn’t know from all those sanitized briefing memos, documents, and reports you receive but never really read? What would you learn about how they see their industry changing? About where they see their biggest opportunities lie? What would they tell you about how they’re changing their business to best meet the continually evolving expectations of their customers?
More importantly: would you be able to get anywhere near as much grass-roots insight any other way?
History is littered with countless cautionary tales of business owners or upper management who didn’t see the warning signs until it was too late.
- Blockbuster thought its customers were always going to go to a store to buy or rent movies. Even when middle-management suggested looking more closely at a young competitive upstart called NetFlix, the C-Suite ignored them.
- Kodak thought they were in the camera business, or the film business, when they were actually in the imaging business.
Business is a constant process of information acquisition – regardless of whether it’s competitive analysis, industry trends, or customer evolution. The minute you insert the gilded cage buffer zone between you and that information is the minute you lose touch. You lose your edge. You’re reliant on process, on data, on metrics. You’ve stopped talking to people and started to rely on reports.
Step Out Of The Cage Every So Often
Every now and again, it’s vitally important to step outside the gilded cage. Make the effort to call the people who are at the coal face. Retain that personal identification with your target market. Know them. Understand them.
After all, that’s what got you in the cage in the first place.