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Why Business Leaders Need to Roll Up Their Sleeves to Implement Successful Strategy

The best way to determine whether your plans are actually working is to work directly alongside your employees.

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When executives “roll up their sleeves,” it can mean one of several things. Often, it references a willingness to do work that might be perceived as “beneath” a senior staff member, or it can also be to describe a personal effort born of sheer necessity. However, one of the most important reasons for senior staff to roll up their sleeves often goes overlooked — to develop and implement a business strategy.

Here are some specific reasons why business leaders need to roll up their sleeves to develop and implement truly successful business strategies.

Related: What Is a Business Strategy?

Keeping your strategy close

Business strategy affects everyone in an organization — from the bottom to the top of the totem pole. And yet, it is often developed at the highest levels of an organization. In other words, the success of a given strategic element is extremely difficult to gauge based solely on data. To understand how it is being internalized and implemented across levels and departments, leaders instead must get “down in the trenches” and see it for themselves.

By working alongside employees, senior leaders have an opportunity to understand their struggles, perspectives and expectations in a greater context. It also opens a direct window into the ways they learn, communicate and execute, as well as their relationships with colleagues and others throughout the organization.

While most leaders are well aware of the value that this insight holds, what they may not realize is that it’s impossible to gain the insight from across the table — whether that’s in a one-on-one meeting or a daily huddle. Instead, it’s necessary to break down the hierarchical barriers and see the circumstances from the employee’s viewpoint.

If you’ve watched the television show Undercover Boss, this probably sounds familiar. In the series, executives from companies, including DirecTV, Subway and Anytime Fitness, pose as lower-level employees, working alongside members of their own staff. Dramatization and accusations of being “fake” aside, the premise of the show is an intriguing one, based on the idea that business leaders can benefit greatly from seeing their companies through the eyes of employees at all levels.

However, Undercover Boss still manages to sell the idea short. What the episodes gloss over or leave out entirely is the big-picture value that comes with rolling up one’s sleeves. Doing so, and gaining a full understanding of the challenges and perspectives that a strategy engenders throughout his or her organization, prepares the executive to return to the high level and refine any relevant parts of a strategy.

Related: Follow These 6 Steps to Bulletproof Your Digital Business Strategy

Counting the Benefits

In short, there isn’t just one advantage to rolling up your sleeves. In addition to being a barometer for how strategy is affecting a company’s internal stakeholders, it works as a natural foundation for building relationships and empowering employees. It also gives you the ability to identify talent from within and to challenge individuals and teams in productive ways while offering an opportunity to explicitly demonstrate to employees the ways in which their roles facilitate the larger strategy — helping them see the true value of their work.

Obviously, you don’t need a disguise or a camera crew to make rolling up your sleeves worthwhile. However, you do need to make sure that your actions aren’t viewed as micromanaging. In most cases, that would lead to the direct opposite of the benefits listed above. To avoid this potential misperception, approach the exercise with a mindset of servant leadership: What can you learn from your employees, and how can you help them? If answering these questions is your conscious intention, the rest will take care of itself.

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