With hard work, your company has produced sound strategic and operating plans. But will the results come in on time? Are the necessary organizational changes taking place? Are the new distribution channels working and providing needed revenue and profit? How’s a boss to know? One excellent way to find out is to hold a periodic on-site operating review.
This review — best if held at least twice a year — can take many forms and cover many areas. At a minimum, topics should include expenses, operations and capital spending levels. It should also cover sales, products, profit goals, and product development and distribution.
Selecting the Site: In a multi-site company, move the review from place to place; don’t hold it at headquarters. There are good reasons for this, even though it means more travel for those conducting the reviews. While I was at AIG, I went to Tokyo for a major three-day review of the company’s Japanese operations. Our senior vice-chairman flew in from his base in Hong Kong. And my boss, the president of our global international life operations, came from New York. Why were they were willing to make those long trips?
Making the Most of Your Trip: On-site reviews give managers an excellent opportunity to see what’s going on. Electronic communications can’t substitute for face-to-face meetings. Walking around the offices gives local staff the chance to talk with the visitors. You never know what you’ll learn. Set aside some time when employees can have a few minutes of private time with you. Hold an informal coffee or beer party for the local staff. Take their questions. It’s not often that a senior executive travels to see distant operations. The local staff wants to see you, hear you, talk to you. It’s also an opportunity for the visiting senior management to accompany local managers to make important marketing calls. They can host a reception or dinner or working session with key customers or producers.
Preparing for Reviews: When I was a boss, a few weeks before the event, our team examined the plan and budget and picked subjects we wanted to cover. We reviewed the visit schedule with the local manager to get comments and additional topics for coverage. The sessions permitted local management to discuss topics important to them.
Picking the Team: I chose the traveling team based on the topics to be covered. The one constant participant was the financial officer because financial results and analysis are key elements of every review. We added topics about people and organization because staff performance and development are central to success. Sometimes we wanted to see certain high-potential employees.
For those of you visiting operations where English is not the primary language, a word of caution: Don’t assume that an employee who speaks perfect English is necessarily skilled at his or her job. This was the case of a review I attended in Hong Kong of AIG’s Indonesian operations. It’s natural to think that speaker is competent because of excellent facility in our language. Dig deeper and find out who knows the real stuff. Don’t get fooled.
Planning the Visit: Before and after each review, I met privately with each presenting manager, not only to learn of special concerns, but also as a courtesy. The length of a review varies from half a day for smoothly running operations to three days for start-ups or troubled operations. Notes are taken during each review. It is critically important that after the review, the boss write the local manager a comprehensive note that provides feedback on the review, gives direction, discusses conflicts and allows continuing dialogue until outstanding matters are resolved.
In my experience, some early reviews were shaky. But over a period of time — as local managers and my staff continued to work closely — the reviews became highly productive as well as professionally collegial.
So what happened in the three-day Tokyo review? The heads of our three Japanese companies made their presentations. The president of one of the companies made a presentation so far superior to all the others that he was soon tapped to take a far larger role at AIG. It was a different story with the fluent, charming speaker at the Indonesian review. When questioned, he knew little about the business; he was later excused. The country manager whose English was poor had the right information, and with patience, we had a wholly satisfactory session.
Visiting the field provides a great opportunity to lead your team, not just manage an organization. Leadership is what inspires respect and commitment. Support your employees’ commitment to success by leading them.