Making the Most of 'Touchpoints'

Besides the CEO, it is often argued, the CFO has more overlap with the various company functions than any other C-suite member. Because so many aspects of a firm's activities influence the bottom line, the finance chief often must have a degree of involvement with such disparate areas as the legal function, marketing and sales, and IT -- in addition to running finance. Beyond attending meetings, a CFO's hectic schedule is also peppered with smaller, more informal interactions with colleagues and employees.

But while getting frequently buttonholed on the way to one's office can be frustrating at times, every passing encounter is an opportunity to engage employees and advance the organizations work.

So says former Campbell Soup Co. CEO Douglas Conant in his new book TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Jossey-Bass, May 2011). Indeed, he believes a leader's effectiveness is largely measured by how productive he or she can make these touchpoints. Touchpoints, he explains in an interview with the Gallup Management Journal, "are everyday encounters in which there's and issue, there's you, and there's another person or another group of people. They are not necessarily planned meetings." And they are extremely valuable to the work of the organization and to a manager's work as a leader.

"How effective are you in those minutes with those interruptions, those phone calls, and in those conversations with someone in the hall who's been meaning to talk to you or with someone you bump into on the plant floor who has a question for you? That's the real work of leadership," Conant contends. "What you make out of all those small everyday encounters defines your impact on your organization and ultimately, your reputation."

The key to making each encounter productive is to listen to an issue being presented, framing it in some way, and advancing the conversation--i.e. take some sort of decisive action, such as approving an activity or offering advice. This can take some discipline if one is in the frame of mind to dismiss the interaction as an interruption, but it pays off, says Conant. He tells GMJ that in the past several years he has studied this concept, "we've found that people who engage in this practice [intentionally] tend to be out in front of problems and in a more proactive position."

Moreover, "because workers become comfortable with leaders who do this, workers search them out earlier on an issue. Typically, [issues] are managed efficiently before they become big problems--they're managed when they're smaller ones."