My name is Kursten and I have a confession to make…

Once upon a time I was a very, very, very, busy corporate citizen. My day would start with a meeting, followed by a meeting, followed by a meeting. Followed by some fire fighting, followed by a meeting.

By 10AM I was exhausted… then I’d have another meeting, followed by another meeting, followed by some email back and forth, followed by a meeting. Followed by a meeting. Followed by a lunch meeting.

I am sure there would have been a little powerpoint action in there somewhere, probably followed by a meeting. I would watch emails bank up by the hundreds and if I was luckily maybe knock a few of them off on the old blackberry walking between meetings.  Sometimes when I was really organized I would block out 30mins to prepare a powerpoint (ahead of a meeting), before finally rushing out the door at seven, satisfied with a job well done, meetings attended, powerpoints written and emails sent.

It sounds funny but it’s not far from the truth. You can spend weeks in a cycle uncannily similar to this – rushing everywhere, doing what feels like vital work, chasing you and your colleagues’ tails… all the while missing what is actually happening outside the building, with your frontline team and, more than anything, with your customer.

There are a couple of companies I know that have broken this cycle, and the change in culture has delivered some pretty impressive results.

The CEO of DTR (www.dtr.co.nz) is Mark Spring. Mark’s business revolves around a national retail channel of 23 stores. The stores are the beating heart of the business and are the real time, real life interface between Mark’s commercial targets and the consumers that deliver it to him.

It’s probably not surprising that Mark loves being in the channel. What is surprising though is the validation and energy that getting out of the head office pressure and into the field can deliver to someone who as CEO you might expect to be removed from the shop front.

He told me recently that when he is having one of “those days”, when he’s a step or two away from exploding as a bear with a bad head… he simply ups sticks and heads to the field. Unsurprisingly, the team at head office love it when this happens – but just as valuably, so does Mark…

“I never fail to get validation of our purpose from talking to a customer, and every time I’m in store I learn something. Good or bad, it’s still something new to work on.”

Those feel like wise words. Marks lives and breaths what his channel does and regardless of those bad head days, he makes it a point to regularly hit the front line alongside his staff. Here’s Mark again…

“There is simply no substitute for face to face contact.  The transfer of emotional energy between layers and across layers in a business is crucial”

 You might think that is that is fine for a business the size of DTR. It is worth noting that no less an entity than Amazon still insist senior management in all territories spend a couple of days in the busiest Christmas season packing in their warehouses – Amazon live or die on logistics, so this is the closest they have to Mark’s getting on the shop front. It’s Amazon’s way of making sure that all senior execs keep in touch with the living, beating heart of their business.

And it’s not just Amazon – the same principles that Mark employs at DTR are used by one of our own heavy hitters.

Air New Zealand have a process where the exec and General Managers spend one day “in the business” a month. This can be from baggage loading to being a crew member on a flight. I don’t see any coincidence between this process and Air New Zealand winning awards as one of the world’s best airlines, on top of an extremely high NPS and equally high staff engagement scores.

Key Takeaways

  • Stop replying to emails, turn off PowerPoint, go on a sales call. If you have consumer facing outlets – get in the store!
  • That report you want to read can wait but your customers and competition will not.
  • Your customers and competition will tell you more about your business than a report ever will.
  • Genuine customer insights come from genuine customers.


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