Leaders and employees who are ready to move up in the ranks see opportunities to get involved and make significant contributions all around them. To be successful, it’s critical to focus on the right activities with the right people in order to maximize your influence and knowledge.
There are four primary groups you likely interact within the workplace, and I like to visualize these groups in terms of a compass. You are in the center; to the north are your superiors or perhaps board members; to the south are your direct reports; to the west are your peers; and finally to the east are your customers.
Where do you currently focus most of your efforts?
My guess would be that you spend 95% of your time focusing on the north, south, or west.
Maximize time with your boss or board.
You should devote a considerable portion of your time working on the strategic direction of your organization. This includes allocating resources to meet all the current and future business and market needs.
Maximize time with your staff.
You should engage with your staff and employees. Focus on inspiring and enrolling them in the organization’s vision and strategy. You should ensure that the needs of the organization and your customers are being met, accounts are developing, and new markets are being penetrated.
Maximize time with your peers.
You should collaborate with your peers to optimize enterprise performance, develop and implement cross-organization systems and solutions, and leverage all assets to bring the desired innovations to the market.
Most of us are so busy managing others or routine tasks that, sadly, our customers often take a back seat.
To be successful and to maximize your influence in the north, south, and west, you must focus on the east — your customers and your market. The more you know more about your customers and the market, the more prepared you will be to recognize emerging needs, opportunities, and threats. If you aren’t already spending consistent, dedicated time with your customers, stop what you are doing right now and schedule some face-to-face time with your customers. Learn what matters to them. Ask them what is working, what is keeping them up at night…or better yet, figure out what should be keeping them up at night.
Approach the east with intense curiosity and pack probing questions like:
- Why do you buy from us?
- How do you use our products and services in generating value for your customers?
- What would happen to your business if we suddenly stopped providing you with our products and services?
- Would you have even the slightest hesitation in recommending us to one of your most trusted friends? If so, what is the source of that hesitation?
- If you could change one thing about our products and services, or anything at all about our company, what would it be?
- Do you trust us to do what we say?
- Can you share a recent example where we let you down, even a little?
- Can you share a recent example where we exceeded your expectations?
- Where is your organization going strategically, and what is making it hard to get there?
- What do you wish we offered you beyond our current products and services?
- What question do you wish I asked you?
What to do with this information.
Armed with the answers to these questions, return to your organization powered up with knowledge and influence. In the north, ensure the vision and strategy of your organization is aligned with the vision and strategy of your customers. In the south, provide your staff with clear feedback from the marketplace and drive adjustments that enhance the delivery of your products and services. In the west, work creatively with your peers to innovate, develop, and deliver new and valuable products and services. This is invaluable information because it is the voice of your customer, and the customer should be at the heart of anything and everything your organization does.
Take a look at where you spent your time during the past week. Where are you planning on spending your time over the next few weeks? Ask yourself if you are spending enough quality time in the east learning deeply about the unmet needs of your customers. Are you the authoritative voice of the customer for all those around you? If not, it’s time to run as fast as you can towards the east and power up your knowledge.
This article first appeared on Inc.com.