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Opinion: Informed leaders know the front lines

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It’s summer, and that means vacation time. I’m a huge advocate for taking real time off, and for teams to celebrate and honor that time. To be successful at this, you have to plan. But even with planning, there is always work the team picks up.

I experienced that this month while Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle was visiting Niagara Falls. I also experienced something else: an appreciation for the ticking clock that he performs under while putting out our daily newsletters and a gratitude for the quality work he produces.

It was an invaluable experience. It made me think about how critical it is to personally understand the roles the team members around us play to be more informed decision makers.

Locally, some executive teams also have found value in leaders working on the front lines. Whether it be out of necessity or an intentional policy, here’s what they shared.

 Oasis Hotel & Convention Center
The hospitality industry has suffered immensely with the nationwide labor shortage. Oasis General Manager Missy Handyside-Chambers says that has required an “all-hands-on-deck” approach.

“Unfortunately, with staffing levels still not where they were pre-COVID, we sometimes need help from our leadership team and/or associates from other departments to help with various tasks,” she says. “I personally feel that this has brought our entire team closer together and has definitely shown associates that regardless of position, we are a team and will pull together to get the job done.

“Working with the front line allows us to experience some of the frustrations and challenges that our associates face on a daily basis and gives us the opportunity to get creative in trying to find solutions.”

 Silver Dollar City
Spokesperson Lisa Rau says all the leadership team pitches in around Christmas, mostly in the foods department. She says it just makes the leadership team better.

“It truly gives leadership a much better understanding of how hard people work,” she says. “Most all directors and managers will take shifts, sometimes assigned, and for some, we will voluntarily offer.”

Rau says the front-line work makes the leadership team stronger, more engaged and brings a sense of camaraderie across the park.

 O’Reilly Automotive Inc.
Mark Merz, senior vice president of finance, says the team at O’Reilly Auto has a program where senior corporate leaders spend time in retail stores and distribution centers.

“This program provides our leaders with important perspectives and a hands-on, real-time understanding of the pressures faced by our operations teams, enabling us critical insights into areas where additional support is needed and providing us the vision to focus on the most significant opportunities for improvement,” he says.

The company also boasts a “promote from within culture.”

“This value results in an experienced senior management team who is very well aware of the opportunities and challenges our field operators face day in and day out,” Merz says.

Old Missouri Bank
Banking institutions must be careful with crossover work because of security measures that are highly regulated, says OMB spokesperson Ryan Bowling. But within lines of business, he’s seen team leaders and staff work side by side.

“I’ve seen retail banking leadership work on the front line, especially during the peak of the pandemic when staffing branches every day was a struggle,” he says.

Branco Enterprises Inc.
Local Branco Vice President Sean Thouvenot says construction lends itself to a more hands-on leadership approach.

“Most of our leaders are in the trenches in some form more often than most industries,” he says. “We do our best to keep ourselves in tune with the day to day of our employees and what they are seeing.”

Mercy Springfield Communities
At Mercy, the COVID-19 pandemic has required everyone to pitch in during infection surges and subsequent rises in co-worker quarantines. In January, spokesperson Sonya Kullman says the hospital adopted a formal way to sign up for shifts to stock and refresh supplies and transport patients. Kullman says she helped in the ER, fetching water and blankets.

Steve Mackin, Mercy’s systemwide president and CEO, says in a news release, “It’s no surprise with Mercy’s culture that hospital administrators are pushing wheelchairs, accountants are emptying trash cans and marketing professionals are serving meals, whatever it takes to make sure that our co-workers who provide hands-on patient care are able to focus on their patients.”

Do you take a similar approach to getting the job done at your company? I’d love to hear from you. Workplaces are simply better when we are intentional about understanding one another and stepping up to fill a need – no matter who you are.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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