Here’s a little secret about many corporate leaders – they don’t have a firm grasp on how the company really works. Oh, they know what business the company is in, and they know the main products or services. But in many cases, they haven’t taken the time to really learn the business. If this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to put on your learning hat and go to work. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably could be learning more about the company – a lot more. Here’s how to do it.
Start by actually reading the annual report. It’s not just for auditors and recruits – you’re allowed to thumb through it and take away some nuggets about how the company works. Second, read your company’s external (and internal) websites. Click all around those sites for new facts or interesting tidbits, and familiarize yourself with the bios of the senior team and Board members.
Next, find a peer in one of the lines of business and ask them to tutor you on the product or customer life cycle. Or ask a friend in the finance department to do the same where the balance sheet is concerned. Another way to learn about the company is to contact the corporate university or learning center and ask about their “business fundamentals” courses. Chances are they have some e-learning courses about how the company operates.
These are good ideas, but nothing beats a visit to the front lines for a first-hand look at what your company does, and how they do it. That’s right – if you really want to learn how the company operates and makes money, get out of your office and immerse yourself in what life is like where the company meets its customers. Find out if your company has an employee immersion program, where they arrange for you to work alongside front line co-workers. If so, set up a day or two for you and your team, and turn it into a shared experience and learning opportunity. If your company doesn’t have a formal program, arrange somehow to “get out there” on a route ride, a sales call, or a night in the stores. Listen in to calls with customers (the good and the bad) and visit the shop floor to see how the product is made. Talk to employees – find out the little details that explain profit margin or net income.
Strive to learn what makes the company tick – how it really works. Then, use that knowledge to make adjustments in your plans, budgets, proposals, etc. I guarantee you’ll see your own job differently once you see theirs up close. Do it this month – go experience the front-lines of the business. You’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll feel more connected to the company, and you won’t have to worry about getting asked a business question at your next staff meeting. You’ll have facts to share and stories to tell … and that’s something every leader should be able to do.