When Corporate Headquarters and the Field Are Not Connected
Over the years I have had the opportunity to work for organizations who have multiple locations all over the world and a centrally located corporate headquarters located 1000’s of miles away from where the actual work is being done. I experienced this situation early on in my own career and the same issues that were plaguing companies 30 years ago, continue to play themselves out today.
The best analogy I can share is that of an army general who parks themselves 40 miles north of the battle while giving out commands to the troops on the ground at the front line. While the intention is never to harm, sometimes the decisions made 40 miles away behind the lines, do more harm than good. There is a chasm of difference between seeing reports of what is happening at the front and actually being at the front experiencing the battle. Neither party can begin to comprehend the others’ experience because they are in two different locations, having two completely different experiences, with two completely different perspectives, even though the objective is the same.
Similarly, when the folks at corporate (also with the best intentions) are disconnected from the dailiness of what happens in the field, a number of situations can unfold that magnify the disconnect between the two parties. Additionally if hidden objectives (real or imagined) are present that accentuates the divide even more. Below is a list of problems I see showing up in the field as a result of this disconnection:
6 Problems That Happen When Corporate Headquarters and the Field Are Not Connected
- Making changes or implementing policies without getting buy-in or involvement from the people responsible for executing the change in the field or who are being impacted by the change – You would think this is a no-brainer. Yet, many times cleverly constructed ideas, programs, and processes go out to the field without a chance in hell of succeeding because:
- The field pushes back aggressively and fights back because you didn’t seek their counsel or involve them in the process.
- The field pushes back passively-aggressively by not honoring deadlines, pushing the initiative to the bottom of the priority list, or sabotaging it so it will fail because you didn’t seek their counsel or involve them in the process.
- The field pushes back passively by ignoring requests, dumbing-down, and letting it die a slow death because you didn’t seek their counsel or involve them in the process.
- The reality is that the idea works on a whiteboard or in someone’s mind but doesn’t work in the field.
- The folks at CHQ think because they did a conference call to introduce the new initiative and sent an email everyone is on the same page and buys-in so they expect the change and therefore the results to happen immediately.
- Policies and programs sent out to the field by people who have to justify the existence of their position – This can happen at anytime, but usually takes place after a cutback when everyone in corporate is trying to justify the reason they are still employed. Ironically, this is the time when the field actually needs the most help because the cuts have impacted their ability to get the work done. And yes, sometimes the cuts in the field are deeper than they are at corporate.
- The Alphabet Game – This is where someone with a bunch of letters after their name, reflecting either a higher level of education or just a higher level in the organization (usually begins with a C but not always) believes that they know better than anyone else what needs to be done (even though they are so far removed from the field, the current marketplace, or the opinions of others). They continue to push their agenda even when things are failing miserably. Their over-inflated ego’s will not let them reverse direction or own the fact that they are wrong. This behavior can take down a team, a process, an expansion, a division, or an entire company. (Think Enron, Tyco, and yes Wells Fargo.)
- Centralized Business Functions – While centralizing business functions across an organization can provide great cost-savings, it can also create a nightmare for the people in the field, especially when the folks at corporate have no idea of the impact in the field and their ability to achieve results. For example, when vendors don’t get paid because things are tied up at corporate, those vendor relationships (which are so critical to success in the field) fail which negatively impacts the results both parties are trying to achieve.
- Ad nauseum Reporting – Because the corporate folks are not in the field, the only thing they can judge success (results) or failure on is the information they receive in reports – the data. And while data is important, when the data and the reporting super-cedes the priority of achieving results there is a problem. Why? Because the field spends all of their time putting together reports to appease corporate which takes them away from their actual job which is getting results. What makes this even worse, is when six different folks at corporate decide they need another report which is already being reported to another department and so the duplication of data happens again and again and again.
- Seeing the folks in the field as incompetent and untrustworthy(or vice-versa) – This is actually one of the bigger problems and is rooted in trust. Trusting that either party has the best intention is difficult when you do not communicate or are disconnected.
I am sure there are many more reasons for the disconnect between corporate and the field, these are the ones I continue to see happening over and over again, regardless of the size of the organization.
7 Actions Corporate Headquarters Can Take to Reconnect With the Field:
- Get out of your office and visit the field locations. Not for just a day but for an extended period of time (a minimum of 2 weeks at least 2 -3 times a year). You will learn more and understand more being out there than you ever could by sitting in your office.
- When you are out in the field, BE OUT in the field – get mud on your boots, dirt on your shoes, rain in your bonnet, snow in your collar, and experience what the folks in the field experience day-in-and-day-out, the good, the bad, and the ugly! Not only will you learn a ton, you will gain the respect of the folks who do the work … which will help you get more buy-in in the future.
- Take an inventory of all of the data and reports you ask for – determine where there is an overlap or duplication, look for ways to combine reporting systems and reports to make it easier for the folks in the field. This way they can spend less time doing reports and more time getting results.
- Before you implement a new idea, a new policy, or a new process, ask the key folks in the field for their perspective. Don’t make statements and demands, if you learn how to ask great questions you will uncover the underlying beliefs and perspectives. Without those you cannot influence or lead anyone! If for some reason you don’t believe you need to involve others, go back to actions 1 and 2 and do those until you do.
- When a policy, program, or process is failing…own your mistake, and put it out of its misery. You will save yourself a lot of pain, grief and misery.
- If you are going to centralize processes, be sure you can do it effectively (and if you cannot…DONot do not). Ask the folks in the field what are the biggest issues and then work to solve them. Not listening or ignoring the field will eventually cost you on the bottom-line.
- This last one is a bit tricky so let me just be straight-forward – Their are no initials before or after your name that are an excuse for being an egotistical jackass! Some of the greatest failures in businesses are due to arrogant, self-centered leaders. In your quest to win, be right, be he smartest person in the room, or to leave a legacy, you may just find that you came in last place, you were dead wrong, people see you as an ass, and your legacy ends up being used as an great example of how NOT to lead.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you are a Fortune 500 company with 10,000 employees and locations all over the world or just a small local manufacturer with 50 employee’s, when a disconnect exists between those guiding the work and those doing the work you will always have to settle for results that are far less than your organization greatest potential.