Somehow I Manage: The Traveling CEO
Pacesetter has three locations: Atlanta, Chicago and Houston, customers throughout North America and suppliers all over the world. As CEO of Pacesetter, it’s important to me to have relationships with all of our associates and have opportunities to hear their ideas and collaborate with them in person. I also find it important to visit our customer and supplier partners to better understand their businesses, their needs, and their goals.
As our executive leadership team strategizes, it’s important to understand all of these perspectives to make sure that our vision includes our associates’ ideas and meets the needs of our customer and supplier partners.
So, that means quite a bit of traveling, which I actually enjoy. It’s a personal goal of mine to know all of our associates on a personal, first-name, basis and learn about their individual goals, families, and lives.
But, even with the advances in technology that we have in today’s steel industry, no one has figured out how to put me in multiple locations at the same time. That means that no matter where I am, I have to find ways to be as present as humanly possible, wherever and whenever business is happening.
Fortunately, there are ways to both augment and streamline managing multiple locations.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.
1. Check-in on a regular basis, virtually if not physically
While technology may not allow me to transport from one office to another in seconds (at least, not yet), tools like Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and other videoconferencing platforms that allow for live streaming are the next best thing. For a great overview of all the options, check out this article in PC Magazine.
At Pacesetter, we video conference certain corporate meetings and events so that all of our locations can be on the same page. For smaller meetings, we have video conferencing set up so that team members from multiple locations can collaborate face to face. It may take your team some time to get comfortable with being on screen, but it will let you see expressions and get a better read on the emotional pulse of your team.
There’s also the added benefit of being about to simultaneously share computer screens, documents, drawings and other media that will enhance the call.
We still have a long way to go to utilize this technology to its fullest capacity. It is not perfect with the internet and other issues, and if you can’t be in person it’s better than the phone.
2. Have dashboards and metrics for each location
This does two things. First, it codifies the basics like shipments, productivity, and most importantly, safety! In addition to setting metrics and performance goals, it allows you to determine where there are gaps in performance from afar and work with your leadership team to correct them.
Effective dashboards allow an organization to compare locations to their goals and one another to identify areas for continuous improvement through best practice sharing. When the team in Atlanta is hitting it out of the park, for example, I want to make sure Chicago and Houston know how they’re doing it!
3. Visit each location
Your business has a natural cycle and it’s important to keep tabs on how things are going, in each location, whenever possible. Visiting on a predictable, quarterly schedule is one way to let your associates know they can rely on you, but it’s not always feasible. What’s important is visiting, period.
If a manager has something they’d like to discuss in person, that appointment can be set up easily because they know when you’ll be on site. Personally, I like to make room for both unscheduled and scheduled time: time to walk around the plants and just see how things are going, time to talk with associates, and structured time to discuss to discuss corporate strategy, plans, and goals.
On the personal side, it also helps you connect with your associates about a variety of life events that really are linked to the season. Holidays in December, baseball in the summer, kids going back to school in September… those things are as much a part of your associates lives as the time they spend at work. Make sure they know you understand that!
4. Bring people in from other locations
Since I can’t be everywhere at once, another great tactic is to let associates do some of the traveling! This way, associates can come to me — or if I’m not around that particular day, spend time in other facilities to learn what they can from associates in different locations.
At Pacesetter, we have associates travel to each others’ locations to train, share best practices, etc. We also bring the service center managers from each location to corporate monthly for a few days for leadership development and key meetings where they collaborate with other associates and share their successes and challenges with one another.
For businesses that operate in multiple locations, this is a great way to keep management cohesive no matter your zip code. It also takes some of the burden off of you to help get every associate up to speed with the company’s inner-workings across the board.
5. Keep it fun, recognize and appreciate
The “work hard, play hard” saying definitely applies to a workplace where associates are both highly engaged and happy. I’m proud that we have people who have been with us for 10, 20 even 39 years!
Part of making sure our team members are happy is bringing them together, celebrating our successes, and recognizing their hard work. It could be a picnic, a holiday party or a celebration of a milestone. And the important part is that it’s an informal way for people to meet and mingle, and for different areas to get to know each other and make personal connections.
6. Stay comfortable, and make good use of travel time
As a final thought, guess what? Much of this article was written during a recent flight. I’ve found that planes are a great place to get work done, catch up on business reading, or to brainstorm. Others may use this time to sleep, which I certainly can’t knock: along with comfortable shoes and hydration, regular sleep is necessary to stay fit for travel.
After all, travel can take a toll on even the fittest CEO, and no associate wants to face a leader who’s cranky on arrival. So do yourself and your colleagues a favor by making sure you’re in good shape when you get off the plane, whether it’s by preparing yourself mentally for work or catching some extra z’s. You won’t regret it.