Field Centric

As leaders, we can get wrapped up in so many different activities and meetings – meeting with the finance, human resources or marketing department; talking to investors, banks and insurance companies; strategic planning; looking at acquisition candidates or joint venture partners.  This is all the sexy stuff that we see business leaders do on TV or in the movies. 

Good leaders do not let these activities get in the way of what is most important – focusing on and appreciating the front line of the business.  Often referred to as the field, the front line of the business is where the money gets made; it is where salespeople win new customers and close deals; it is where the product or service gets produced, delivered, and/ or installed; it is where most of the employees of the company work.  As the late CEO of GE, Jack Welch, writes:

“The field is important, not the headquarters.”

Get Thee to the Field

We, as business leaders, need to get out into the field to truly understand our businesses:

  • Being in the field allows us to truly understand the nuts and bolts of the business.

“You have to understand what is happening on the ground.  You have to be able to see what works and what doesn’t and to adapt quickly.  Otherwise you’ll spend years running plays that have no chance of succeeding.”  Jonathan Starr  (Founder of Flagg Street Capital)

“The further you are from the combat, the dumber you are.”  David Petraeus (US General during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan)

  • Being in the field keeps us humble, helping us to appreciate the difficulties, challenges, and hard work that produce the numbers we see each month on our financial statements.

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the United States)

  • Being in the field allows us to have an unfiltered view of the business:

“Leaders should maintain contact with the front-lines and with customers.  This allows for truthful information gathering unhindered by the filters (and personal agendas) of the different layers of management.”  Skills for Success: The Experts Show the Way

  • Being in the field brings the company together and improves morale.  It reduces the psychological distance between us in our corner office and the person in the factory, on the jobsite, or delivering the product.  It allows us “to shake hands and kiss babies”, showing our appreciation and thanks for the good job our employees are doing, especially during times of stress (such as recently during Covid-19).  If we are trying to change or strengthen our culture, interacting directly with people on the front line of the business is vital.

Conclusion

In all our companies, there must be a focus on and appreciation of the field – the front line of the business.  We can never forget that this is the one part of the business that makes money and pays for everything else.  As Stephen Covey says:

“The front line produces the bottom line.”

About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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