Managing on the Front Line

How to identify the influencers on your front lines

In business, the only thing that matters is what works. The people in your company who are dealing with your customers -- the clerks, the caregivers, the customer service reps -- are where the rubber meets the road. That's why it's essential for the company leaders -- the men and women in the offices who are often far from the front lines -- to be where the action is on a regular basis.

At my company, Concordis, our specialties include managing senior-living communities for other owners and developers. We developed certain practices over the decades that can apply to any business because they keep the leadership actively involved in what's going well -- and not -- on the front lines, and provides a system for regular communication through all layers of the company.

Here are three proven management techniques that can work for any business:

• Identify the influencers in each work group. Most businesses require teams of staff, from administrators to housekeepers and everyone in between. Within the various groups that make up your business, identify the key players -- the people who influence others' behavior, whether or not they hold titles or official authority. Meet with them on a regular basis so you can stay plugged in to what's happening on the front lines.

• Identify areas that need improvement. Talk to them about systems and areas that need to be fixed, overhauled, or eliminated, and about how team members are working together. They'll often have ideas for innovations. The idea is not to look for people or problems to blame, but to work together to develop solutions and improve the team's overall efforts.

The information you get in speaking with these key players is invaluable. There may be nothing at all wrong, which is great, but these meetings give you the information you need to constantly improve. It also reinforces the message to employees that they and their ideas are valued parts of the team.

• Figure out those "wildly important goals." You can have the best people in the field working for you, yet if they're not specifically guided to a certain goal, they are putting their time and effort toward an end that they're assuming is correct. CEOs and other upper-level managers have the 30,000-foot view, so it's up to them to guide everyone below them. SM

Peder Johnsen is the CEO of Concordis Senior Living, which owns, operates, and develops senior-housing communities. He's a third-generation assisted-living specialist whose grandfather and father built one of the first contemporary-style assisted-living facilities in Florida, more than 30 years ago. He is an industry leader in staff development and training, and has overseen the development, acquisition, and financing of several communities.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Successful Meetings.