Seasoned leaders know that you can't take the pulse of the business from behind a desk. To get a clear picture of where the organization excels or needs to improve, you have to get out of the office, visit the places where the business is done, and talk directly with managers and employees on the front line.
Quickly integrating as a colleague and team member, rather than a stranger or spectator, requires some advance prep. Adapt the following five tips into a site visit game plan that builds relationships and results:
1. Do some advance research. You wouldn't deliver a speech without knowing your audience, right? The same concept applies for site visits. Make calls to contacts and check out your company intranet. Find an org chart. Get some background information on contact whom you'll meet and speak with. Understand some of the local business conditions and challenges. Uncover insights about the site's heritage. Is it a legacy business from the company's deep history or is it part of a new acquisition? Research the site's culture. Is it formal or informal? Understand the business situation: Is the site in an upswing or going through a rough patch?
2. Solicit advance questions. A week or so before your visit, call your trusted sources there and ask them to gather feedback from the staff about what they want to know from you about the business or, if you're a new leader in the organization, about yourself.
3. Plan a humble arrival. First impressions are often forged in the parking lots; that's why a site visit is the wrong time to arrive in a rented Jaguar. Also, don't arrive with an entourage worth of a president or rock star.
4. Stay visible. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to visit a site but stay confined in a conference room in a remote corner of the building. Get out, walk the halls and talk with people. Visit different floors and departments, drop by the cafeteria and the loading dock. Move from building to building and ask questions of employees.
5. Follow-up. As you're meeting with managers and employees, be sure to jot down their names and what you talked about. When you return to the office, send a quick email or, if possible, a hand-written note to thank them. Also, think about sending an email to all employees at the site recapping your visit as well as what you learned.
Be sure to listen to this episode of Dulye & Co.'s Spectator-Free Workplace Podcast in which we discuss the topic of offsite visits.