Next time you conduct an interview with an external candidate for a job in your organisation, make a point of asking the person on reception what they thought of the candidate.
You will learn a great deal about the candidate by the way they treated your receptionist and how they behaved in the reception area.
There have been many instances where candidates have been incredibly rude and disrespectful to the person at your reception, only to lay on the charm once they meet the interview panel.
This circumstance highlights the often overlooked insights of staff at all levels on a range of topics. The receptionist in most organisations exemplifies this issue more than most.
They see and frequently speak to every employee every day. They speak with customers, suppliers, visitors, board members and a range of other stakeholders regularly. They notice the volume of calls, the number of visitors and witness a range of happenings that others never see.
Call centre staff are similarly attuned to the market. They have a good sense of how business is progressing, what products or services are in demand, what problems are being raised most often by customers and even which of your staff are performing well or poorly in the eyes of the customer.
Yet despite this high visibility, receptionists and call centre staff are rarely consulted or asked their opinion on any issue of importance.
The reasons for this neglect can be mixed.
For some leaders, it is a belief that only they or their senior staff know what is going on in the market. Others feel uncomfortable approaching staff at a lower level as they see it as an admission that they don’t know it all.
Yet another reason, and probably the only one with real validity, is that the views of some more junior staff are anecdotal and lack hard data.
Although this is not always true, as some staff have access to extraordinary data which has never been truly exploited by the organisation, the gut feeling from any staff member is still valuable information and worthy of consideration.
It would be unusual for senior staff to back all their opinions with hard data, so it is unreasonable to expect a higher standard from more junior staff.
Much of your success in gathering information from these staff will result from your ongoing relationship with them.
Engaging with them on a daily basis, acknowledging their presence, respecting their role and providing feedback on their contribution to the organisation will significantly increase their willingness to share their views with you.
One small step in the next 24 hours
Identify those staff who have unique or high-volume interactions with other staff or customers.
Make a point of asking their view on how they think business is going, how the organisation is performing or what they think are the areas most in need of change.
Ensure the first few times you do this, you approach the staff members in an informal way. A power meeting in the boss's office is going to make them suspicious and they are most likely not going to say too much.
The objective is to make them feel as comfortable as possible to share their insights into the current state of play.
You could start with simple, direct questions like; have the phones been busy today?
Have you noticed any changes in the types of calls you have received recently?
We’ve been promoting that new consulting service recently, have you had many calls or enquiries about it in the last week?