Here’s the thing: top management is often disconnected with things happening down there in their companies. What more, they usually aren’t aware of the fact. My wild guess is that even if they were, most of them wouldn’t care.
At first I was surprised, but after a second thought it does make some sense. These guys focus on different things, have different knowledge about company, look at things from different perspective and have different tasks. Their disconnection is understandable. Which doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Personally I always try to keep in touch with real people doing real work and I think I’m pretty successful. I use a few techniques.
• Talk with people more. Usually top managers talk to people, not with people. And even when it happens they do the latter it’s usually limited to water cooler chit chat.
• Find time to listen. If people bother to come to you with a problem you should be instantly available. Once discouraged they won’t come any more and you won’t know about many problems in your organization.
• Shorten a distance. Manager has a difficult task if he wants to become friends with people he manages, but that doesn’t me he shouldn’t try to become more likeable. People will respond telling you more.
• Encourage people to share their problems with you. People are naturally afraid of their bosses. Try to change it.
• Do something about problems you know of. It’s not enough to listen. As far as you forget about the thing a second after a guy, who told you about problem, leaves your desk you could interrupt him yelling “I’m not listening” either way. Move your butt and fix the problem. Or at least try.
• Stop assuming you know better. Yes, you have better knowledge about some areas, but on the other hand your people know better about things you aren’t aware of. None of you knows better, you just have different positions.
• Exchange information. You tell people more and people respond in the same manner. Treating your teams as mindless golems who don’t have to know anything isn’t the best strategy here.
• Don’t spend too much time with execs. When in Rome do as Romans do. The more time with other disconnected folks from the top of the organization the more disconnected you become.
If you look at a company as an outsider you can sometimes confront what is told about them officially with things you hear from insiders (e.g. friends). And it’s quite common you’ll see a disconnection between these two pictures. I felt exactly the same some time ago when I was listening to execs describing how their companies are innovative. I see the same problem when people tell me how their interviews went in companies they could cross-check with their friends working there. Do you see the same issue in your organizations?