I thought I knew everything about my company… until the day I stepped out of my management role and into those of front-level staff.
Working in new job tasks was the most eye-opening thing I ever did as a manager. The act of observing their roles first-hand made it crystal clear where the problems were originating. And… spoiler alert: 99% of problems in a company are because of poor management decisions!
I call this boots-on-the-ground observation method the “Employee for a Day experience.”
It’s terrifying, enlightening, humbling, and eye-opening.
And it works like magic.
Here are some ideas for how to implement this incredible (free!) tool for yourself.
What is an “Employee for a Day” Experience?
As the owner or leader in your company, you’re under tremendous pressure to increase revenue, make customers happy, and grow the business responsibly.
But is it possible you could be missing some crucial ways things are going wrong? Could there be problems lurking just outside your line of sight?
Every company has strategic risks that compromise its ability to grow effectively. The good thing is that you have a valuable resource to discover these problems: Your Staff. Especially your Foundational Staff — the individuals who Clean, Care, Feed, and Fix:
When you became an “Employee for a Day,” you have access to two things:
- a first-hand perspective from a variety of roles in your company, and
- the opportunity for staff to give an honest opinion about what is going wrong and how to fix it.
This combination will provide you with tremendous value…
and it’s free.
The only cost is your time.
How to Do It
Getting started with an Employee for a Day experience is simple. Just schedule a day (or several!) to fully immerse yourself in the world of your Foundational Staff.
To get the most out of your experience, you also want to analyze the data you collect.
Check out these articles for more details:
10 Variations on Being an Employee for a Day
In addition to the basic schedule I provided in this article, you can adapt this idea in a number of ways.
Here are 10 suggestions on how to get the most from your experience.
Variation 1: Spend a day in one job role.
Select one particular job role, and perform every task in that role for a single day.
This can be much harder than it sounds, because you may need to do tasks that you haven’t done in years. I was surprised at how rusty my skills had become after I’d been in a management role for a few years.
Variation 2: Follow a “process thread” from beginning to end.
In this variation, you would choose to focus on a single process, and seek to find out where problems are occurring at every point in the handoffs (when information is passed from one person or system to another).
You could role play this in several ways:
- as a new customer who is onboarding (purchasing your service or product for the first time)
- as a customer who wants to purchase a product or service (from interest to sale to delivery),
- as an inactive customer to follow up and re-establish the relationship,
- as a frustrated customer who is upset about something,
- as a customer placing an online order, or
- as a customer who is offboarding (leaving the company for a competitor).
Continue the process step by step and look for delays, barriers, and other areas of waste.
Variation 3: Gather leading and lagging indicators.
Leading indicators are future-focused. You could consider what-if threats. Ask: “What happens if this trend continues into the future?”
Lagging indicators have to do with what happened in the past. A Post-Mortem Analysis (aka Lessons Learned) can reveal tremendous insight. Ask: “How can we avoid this from happening again?”
As you collect the data from these situations, make sure to evaluate the quantitative numbers as well as the qualitative emotions and feelings. Check out How to Estimate the Qualitative Loss From Staff Turnover for more information.
Variation 4: Create a Risk Stress Test.
To do this, set up a realistic workplace scenario, then add a higher-than-normal amount of pressure.
Observe the scenario to see inefficiencies, broken links, and waste in the process.
For ideas on how to do this, I recommend watching the TV show Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer (on the Paramount Network). Yes, it’s a reality show; but it does provide some really interesting explanations about how to spot business vulnerabilities and correct them. Here is an article that explains the stress test process.
Variation 5: Develop a Mock Scenario.
Create a plausible situation but add some extremes. For example, you could discuss what would happen if:
- several of your key staff quit at once?
- your essential machines break?
- you experience an extended power outage?
- there is an IT data breach?
- you face major financial pressure?
- something else happens that cripples your business?
By talking about these risks early and developing a plan on how to deal with them, you’ll be a lot further ahead when catastrophe strikes.
Variation 6: Write a Case Study.
During your Employee for a Day experience, gather data from a variety of sources:
- policies and procedures,
- employee reviews,
- and other documents that can show changes over time.
Based on this data, you can write a realistic narrative story. This is an awesome tool that takes a situation that has already happened, and focuses on one specific problem in order to look for possible solutions.
Variation 7. Conduct a Risk Audit.
If you want to avoid potential problems by evaluating the degree of vulnerability in your company, you can conduct an audit of the risks. This can be as simple as observing one department or team and comparing the outcomes you see against your company standards and benchmarks (measurable progress toward pre-established goals).
Use these Risk Analysis tools for ideas on how to get started.
8. Conduct a Strategy Audit.
If you want to evaluate your company’s ability to achieve the strategic goals (long-range objectives that meet your Vision and Mission), consider a detailed review of your strategic plan.
I suggest the SHAPE evaluation tool (see below).
You can find more instructions here: Is Your Strategic Plan in SHAPE?
9. Review your Organization’s Objectives.
Another possible area of focus during your Employee For a Day experience is to see whether your company is meeting its goals.
First, you should take a look at your company goals. These could be listed in a formal strategic plan, or if you don’t have one perhaps you have an informal list. You will want to review your
- vision for the future (Vision),
- how you’ll get there (Mission),
- what guides your behavior (Values),
- specific steps you’re taking to move closer (Objectives), as well as the
- measurement to know it’s working (Measures).
I call these the VMVOM.
During your Employee For a Day event, review whether the boots-on-the-ground tasks and problems are moving your company closer to those objectives or not. You can also be on the lookout for potential threats that could keep you from achieving your goals.
10. Evaluate a Feedback Loop.
A final variation on the Employee For a Day is to check the communication pathways in your business.
- How is information passed on between departments or job roles?
- What is the communication like between your Board of Directors, managers, staff, customers/patients, vendors, the community, and the public?
While you are sitting in the seats of staff, be sure to test the feedback mechanisms and make sure they’re working. Here are some visuals on how to do this.
Once you have collected the data, make sure to analyze it for patterns of delays, barriers, and other waste that can be used to strengthen your company’s Risk Assessment.
I hope you have found this list helpful! If you want to learn how my services can help you reverse a toxic workplace, find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.