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Stay close to the front lines

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

If you run a growing organization, it’s easy to detach yourself from support-level employees. But losing touch with the front lines can come at a cost.

When Tex Gunning took over the top job at TNT, an express-package delivery service, he knew the company was a mess. He also knew he couldn’t fix it from the comfort of his office.

During his first six weeks as CEO, he spent almost all his time mingling with the front lines. He visited depots, joined drivers on delivery trucks and chatted with customers.

Gunning couldn’t meet all 70,000 employees around the world. But he did the next best thing: He emailed them to request their ideas and share their concerns.

Soon enough, more than 1,000 respondents opened up to him. Gunning personally replied to each employee.

Word spread of his thoughtful replies, and employees began to believe in his leadership. They bought into his turnaround plan with fervor.

Reflecting on his early months as CEO, Gunning points to his initial outreach to the front lines as the key to stabilizing the company and boosting morale. He managed to connect with far-flung employees and gain their trust.

Ultimately, TNT’s fortunes improved and it merged with FedEx in a $4.8 billion deal. Today, Gunning is CEO of LeasePlan, a fleet management and driver mobility company.

Follow Gunning’s lead and stay close to your support staff. Replace long meetings with managers with more informal interaction with employees at all levels.

— Adapted from “Maintaining Your Focus on the Front Lines as Your Company Grows,” Chris Zook, www.hbr.org.

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